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.