O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 8 – Conclusion: The Ashes of Poetry)

Conclusion: The Ashes of Poetry

“Images and words must mix with the ashes of poetry to be born in Man’s imagination” is the Word Tamer’s philosophy and by extension it becomes the philosophy of this film. For within this film we are given images, dialogue and voice over and fragmented poetry, or perhaps better stated as free-flowing open-ended poetry. With this poetic opus burnt asunder it is left to our imagination to be born anew. And with the film being born anew in our imagination it lives on.

Prior to the Age of Video one of the biggest selling points that film had is that you paid the price of admission and all that you had when it was over was a memory. With as much as the world and the industry have changed that is still essentially the truth. Despite the fact that we can ceaselessly loop cinematic moments easily if we wish, the fact remains that it is in the hearts and minds of viewers where film is at its most vital.

With the pastiche of Léolo’s experiences and thoughts on display, with the way the narrative armature structures itself we know that there is more that could be told, but here we have been given the narrative distilled to its quintessence in his eyes. Now that that his ashen poetry has come our way it has room wherein to respawn if we so chose.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)

Perhaps the most apt definition of the term masterpiece I ever saw anywhere was a work of art that had reached perfection in its form. In other words, to convey the thoughts and narrative that the piece was relating through another medium would render it moot, or at the very least not as effectual as its initial instance. It is by that standard that by which I can look at Léolo and state, for the first time, that it is to my mind a masterpiece (as that’s a word I’m leery of bandying about haphazardly). For to leave the beautiful poetry unadorned by images would leave it feeling limp and repetitive, to deprive the images of its dialogue, moreover its music (mostly sourced, but perfectly fitting nonetheless) would border on criminal. To strip the fluidity of time and place that film affords it over the stage would be to handicap it greatly. Perhaps, the only other suitable adaptation of a tale such as this would be a graphic novel – however, even if that could provide the unique layout and the gorgeous images this tale requires it would lack the kinetics and the refined grain of celluloid that gives this motion picture its signature. Staccato cuts could be replicated in drawing or underscored by music, but it’s the seemingly uninterrupted flow of moving visual information that gives this narrative its life, it form and the exactitude it needs to capture and convey the emotions desired.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)

Surely, it takes a bit of magic and good fortune to capture lightning in a bottle the way this film did. However, that can be said of any great work art no matter how individual or collaborative it may be. Much like the missing piece of the Jacques Brel record Léo serendipitously finds in his house, I was not looking for this film when it came before my eyes for the first time – I may well not have known what it was called until I found it a second time. All I do know for certain is that I feel fortunate it found me.

Parce que je rêve, moi je ne le suis pas.

This post is part eight in a series. Parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven can be found here. Stay tuned for the conclusion.

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 7 – Between Ignorance and Horror)

Between Ignorance and Horror

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.

Much in the same way that this film fearlessly addresses the topics of mental illness, and paints a dysfunctional family portrait; so too does it discuss burgeoning sexual awareness. It explores the topic with poetry and insight, and as with many things in this film it’s not merely superficial. Not to say that a “cigar is just a cigar,” but the film is not just addressing sex with these plot points.

The topic comes up as Léo introduces us to their school’s guide to English; the omnipresent John and Mary. The schooling they were receiving was still very recitative and in this litany of body parts that the francophonic children learned there was a glaring absence: reproductive organs. Yet, Léo, and some of his other classmates had begun to discover these parts of their anatomy had other functions that were heretofore unknown to them.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Features)

So immediately Léo is complaining about the injustice of forced ignorance. In the guise of sheltering the children and preserving their fleeting innocence they are left to discover sex between “ignorance and horror,” as Léo says. And with no demystification from anyone elder in their life how else can this discovery occur. Surely, for some the repercussions of this will be minimal, but for others who knows how much of a negative impact this had on their development.

Instead Léo is left to his own devices and creates a self-gratification technique that oddly enough parallels his own creation myth. Meanwhile, as he struggles to be his own person, keep his mind in order, and strive to something more through artistry he descends down a rabbit hole. His obsession not being sated he seeks alternate avenues. His greatest, purest, unrequited love – the love that he has for Bianca – becomes tainted in his mind by many factors. Feeling further unworthy of trying to gain her affections he has little hesitation plumbing the depths to fulfill his baser desires.

Much of his realization comes all at once. He goes from reciting a tale about Godin (Éric Cadorette), who has a depraved habit that many other classmates are witness to, he engages in said act as part of a bet (a bet which is a pretext); from that story he tells of how he has found favor with a local girl of ill-repute, Régina (Catherine Lemieux). The close to each story is a fairly similar tragic note: a point-of-no-return reached in each. For Léo it was confirmation of his unworthiness to attain his dream girl. For Godin it’s not only that he didn’t need the excuse to engage in the acts he did, but also that his mother’s largest concern was that he was smoking. He wasn’t. In these two situations you have adolescents entering a realm of adult concerns and desires, while persistently estranging themselves from not only their families but their former selves which makes the journey, the commentary and the pain of this vignette sink further into the stomach and pang deep within the very soul.

This is echoed in Léo’s voyeuristic moments as we see what were once childish pleasures (like a pair of goggles) transformed to new implementations. However, as with most things in this film there is balance. Léo’s fears that his activities would be discovered come to the fore in comedic fashion, along with some commentary. One example of balancing humor with insights and narrative parallels is when Fernand, in a moment of insecurity, goes off on Léo. Fernand accuses Léo of thinking he’s better than everyone in the family. “We both came from the same hole” he states crassly referring to their mother. Another reference to Léo’s conception.

While it’s true Léo discovered sex between ignorance and horror, and the film may leave us a bit drained, sad, but there is no horror at having gone on this poetic, enlightening journey.

This post is part seven in a series. Parts one, two, three and four, five and six can be found here. Stay tuned for the conclusion.