WARNING: While I will do my best to avoid major spoilers this series of posts is an in depth examination of the film so it will be discussed at length. Reading about the film in distinct sections is not the same as seeing it clearly but forewarned is forearmed.
In structuring this series on Léolo I could’ve combined this section with another which would encompass this film’s dealing with all biological functions that would perhaps capitalize on the zeitgeist of commentary and thinkpieces on the subject in light of Wetlands’ limited release. However, when dealing with Léolo they should be separated for one very curious reason: Typically when films do go into the uncommonly explored arena they are in the guise of private obsession or other unshared state of privation. However, when it comes to concerns of a scatalogical nature it is very much a family concern in this film, and again, it is an aspect of his family’s life that is touched upon fairly early in the story.
Basically, Léo informs us that the battle his mother picked to fight is that they only way to be healthy was to have regular bowel movements. This is illustrated in an early flashback where she is on the toilet and a toddler Léo is on the potty-training pot wailing. Outside rain falls, thunder crashes and the lighting and poetic voice-over paints a perfect portrait of of a childhood trauma.
It establishes a template for the nature of Léolo’s home life, particularly his relationship with his mother. But even this foible of the family has its plot points. When they are younger they are forced, as is said in the voice-over they are subjected to a “Shitting laxative shock treatment.” And it’s not only mom’s obsession. Dad swells with pride when Léo shows him a “big one.” As he ages he gets craftier, and has more freedom so he can fake it if he needs to.
While in some stories there are things better left unseen, if it serves a story and rendered with artistry nearly anything goes. While focusing an entire story on such aspects can be treacherous, if it fits in there’s no reason to avoid the bathroom.
Two Stephen King-related anecdotes encapsulate my thinking on the subject: first, in his memoir cum how-to-book On Writing King discussed that he has been asked by aspiring writers “When do the characters go to the bathroom?” His advice was: you can skip it, or if it matters you can say “so and so had to push” (his favorite euphemism from his younger days). Oddly, enough I first encountered odd reactions to setting any scene in a bathroom when I was filming a short film based on King’s Suffer the Little Children. A passerby at the college we used as a location thought filming in a bathroom was the funniest thing in the world. It does happen. People use the bathroom and sometimes it matters in a film. That encounter may have been the seed that lead to my wanting to craft a whole one act play set in a bathroom.
As for Léolo, in a building, and a family such as his, quarters are fairly close so to a certain extent things are shared. It seems unlikely that he is the only one who urinates off the balcony. He’s probably just the only one who insists on being called by his Italian name when being yelled at by neighbors for it.
The bathroom escapades also play into a narrative frame wherein a sense of the family is building. Again set-ups and payoffs. In one way or another, odd or conventional, this film closes the narrative circles it opens up.