O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 3 – The Word Tamer)

The Word Tamer

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.

Like many things in this film, we don’t necessarily understand the Word Tamer’s role in the proceedings the second we see him. There’s nothing wrong with that. Any required exposition within the film is handled fairly head-on, though floridly, in narration. However, there’s not a need to do so immediately. There is a great sense of pacing and where things belong in this film. Though this is a tale more of a journey than a plot, one that might seem a bit loose, it does set-up and payoff very well, and it knows when to deliver that bit of necessary news.

With the Word Tamer (Pierre Bourgault) our learning that he digs through trash for words and images believing that “Images and words must mix with the ashes of poetry to be born in Man’s imagination” comes early on, if not immediately. The significance of his existence to the story as a whole, and the function he serves for our lead is information that becomes clearer later on. Sure, he could be seen merely as a conduit for the audience. The angry scribblings Léolo jots down and then feels the need to not keep, lest his family should see it and his life become even more untenable perhaps, could just disappear. We could suspend disbelief and say to ourselves “we have this window to his world, what need have we for the Word Tamer?”

However, what the Tamer is partially wish-fulfillment any adolescent who has ever scribbled his angst down about his life, and the ways of the world. Any such pubescent soul would’ve loved a receptive audience that appreciates our talents and also seemed to understand us and our views as we understand them.

This guardian angel-type isn’t a secret kept from Léolo, one that we the audience and the film share. Therefore, he may very well write and dispose of his writing so that the Tamer can read it. The Tamer also does step in on Leo’s behalf once and tries to better things for him. However, I will touch upon that later.

Is this character the element that lends the film its greatest sense of artistry and fantasy, and its largest burst of magical realism in one fell swoop? It may well be. His being the reader who engages in something akin to a game of telepathic telephone is what in a sense justifies the multiple utterances of certain phrases such that they come at near matra-like intervals. He also is shown storing Léolo’s pages at the end intimating that the tale might be read again and by others at some point.

For those who have seen it previously it may seem like I’m dressing the film up to be a bizarre sort of spin on The Neverending Story, but surely this character would not be the last image of the film were his having read the story been of no significance. Endings and beginnings are perhaps the most key in a film because you’re deciding what to tell the audience first and what to leave them with as they walk out the door.

Now there may be salvation or redemption of Léolo’s tale save for the fact that we know all the pages that he spilled ink upon them saying in the omnipresent human need “I am here and this is my story.” Or in the words of Gigolo Joe as he was captured in A.I. “I am, I was.”

Unlike a great many stories wherein adolescents go through tough trials there’s a sort of difference here. It has both to do with the tonality and the structure of Léolo. At first, you’re not sure where things will go, and second, you’re not sitting there hoping against hope for an escape or endgame already in mind such as in Pelle the Conqueror.

Léolo (1992, Fine Line Pictures)

As such there is no movement towards our lead being more better understood. The Word Tamer tries to get Léolo’s teacher to talk to him about what he should read since he shows promise as a writer. One of the many quirks Léolo’s family is that there is only one book in the house (Rejean Ducharme’s L’avelee des Avales), which is used to balance out an uneven table. The teacher does not help the Word Tamer or Léo. Yet, due to this kindly altruist interested only in purity of emotion and the beauty of words he carries the tale to us. Léo lets us, the audience, into his heart, soul and mind. He examines these facets of his being, and his family as honestly as his biases allow. Due to that fact, and how he expresses himself he finds a willing reader, The Word Tamer, who passes him on to us.

This post is the third part of a series. Read part one here, part two here, and stay tuned for part four.

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 2 – Notions of Nationality)

Notions of Nationality

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.

The first thing Léolo (Maxime Collin) tells you about is the story of how he believes he came to be conceived. In a way it’s his creation myth, the only explanation, however illogical, that he can come up with for why he feels so different than the rest of his family.

Naturally, with one feeling so estranged from one’s family can lead to a sense that they come from some other country. With Léolo having grown up in the midst of his family, and never having moved, the only viable option that remains in his mind is that he himself is from some other nation; somehow, some way.

This notion struck me not only because this film is French-Canadian, and the national identity of its populous has always been nebulous as a whole – as evidenced by two tight independence referenda in the ’90s and political jockeying for another. The notion was also likely to strike me personally for an obvious reason. I am neither French nor Canadian I will not get too cute about what Léolo’s desire to be Italian says about the Quebecois.

However, it’s not coincidental that that Léo’s tale of a randy Italian tomato-picker, an accident wherein his mother stumbles upon the most unlikely tomato imaginable makes him Italian in his mind, and thus, a countryman of Bianca, his great unrequited love.

Due to the fact that his belief is that an anonymous Italian is unintentionally his father and not the man he shares a house with, he also insists on being called Léolo Lozone rather than Léo Lauzon. He is rarely taken seriously in this request.

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“Italy is too beautiful to belong only to the Italians” he says when talking about Italy and Bianca, whom to him is the country personified. This is portion wherein I feel some more identification. I am a dual citizen of the United States and Brazil. I think being a first generation American has made me very curious about the world and made me want to experience other cultures, at least vicariously, not only as an escape (though in my younger years it definitely was) but also for my own edification.

Léo’s world is a one of very small and dark corners; it’s his apartment, his tenement building, diving in the river, collecting papers. His neighborhood, in short, to a lesser extent Montréal as a whole. He is incessantly surrounded by things he wants to be freed of it’s not a wonder that a country he has never been to, landscapes he is imagining but may have never seen represented call out to him as a safe haven. In many ways, with a much different backdrop to grow up against I had that same longing for escapism in my adolescence. Sure, most adolescents do, but it’s the manifestation of such in this particular way that makes it a parallel.

One of the great and subtle touches of this film is how it uses his preferred name to put a bittersweet closing note on the relationship arc of Léolo and his mother (Ginette Reno). There are small moments when he shows his affection towards his mother. He writes of his true feelings with greater fervor than he shows her in real life. Though at times she was unable to understand all that went through her kids’ heads, and may have passively fought him on his desired name, at the end she calls him “Léolo” seeking to bring him back to consciousness. Whatever he calls himself she just wants him to stay. Léolo may have drifted off to a purgatory – how literally one should interpret closing events in the tale is debatable – what’s inarguable its that: because he gave up on his notion of heaven and gave up the will to fight, even with the supplications of his mother beckoning him back, he was lost.

However, the way this story unravels one would hear all he thought, hoped for, and feared.

This post is the second part of a series. Read part one here, stay tuned for part three.

O Canada Blogathon: Léolo (Part 1 – Introduction)

Introduction

Since I have started participating in blogathons I have created an heretofore unwritten rule: I try to limit myself to participating in one a month. There are two main reasons for this: first, they tend to run out-of-sync with what the main theme of my regularly-scheduled programming, and second I tend to go a bit overboard with a post much larger than I normally write with several headings and topics discussed.

As someone who in commemoration of Canada Day one year created a province-by-province cinematic map of Canada of films I had seen or would like to see, I am clearly one with an appreciation for Canadian cinema. In that very post I try and get to the heart of why:

I can’t exactly pinpoint where my fascination with all things Canadian began. Yes, I’ve always been obsessed with hockey, but this burgeoning affection during my childhood also coincided with many of my entertainment staples being either vaguely or blatantly made in Canada such as You Can’t Do That on Television, The Kids in the Hall, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and to an extent SCTV. Regardless, the affinity has always been there and since thanks both to the internet and internationally distributed calendars I’ve come to learn of Canada Day, and decided to compile at least the beginnings of a list.

Strictly speaking in film terms the interest in films made north of the border this was likely the genesis. I vividly remember the inception of The Independent Film Channel as for probably a bit more than a month I saw movies that marked me and that I would never forget. Sometimes they were 8 PM showcases, other times they were just in heavy rotation. Léolo is one of those movies.

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All I really wrote about it in that post, for being a very significant film to me I had to mention it, was:

A completely French-Canadian film (were my revisionist BAM Awards still legitimate would’ve won many awards) called Léolo. It’s a poetic, bizarre and unique tale of a young boy’s adolescence in 1970s Montreal. Sadly, this was the last vision Jean-Claude Lauzon brought to fruition as he tragically died in a plane crash in 1997.

So I always knew that it was a huge movie to me. Which is what would make writing about it quite the difficult task. As I sat down to revisit it for this blogathon that jumped out at me as the way to structure this post: enumerating and compartmentalizing the facets of this film that not only make it work but soar above so many others for me personally.

As I began to work on this piece I started to see it was going to be huge so I have decided to split this post into multiple parts over the course of the whole blogathon.

Without any further adieu, madames et monsieurs, I present to you Léolo Lauzon, or should I say signore e signori I present to you Léolo Lozone…

Shameless Self-Promotion and Film Activism: Crossover

Hello all,

It’s been a while since I’ve done either of these posts, or a site update either for that matter. However, as things tend to do there’s a confluence right now. So let’s get to the announcements.

THE BLOODMASTER TRILOGY

Bloodmaster (David Rosenthal)

The last time I did a bit of Shameless Self-Promotion was to announce my forthcoming short stories. Well, those stories are now out and are available on Amazon for Kindle devices and the Kindle app.

This my previous novella, and any other forthcoming releases can be found on my author page as well.

RISE: COMICS AGAINST BULLYING

RISE: Comics Against Bullying (Northwest Press/Prism Comics)

The second project I’m promoting is also a bit of activism, as it is a non-profit venture in the world of comics (My journey with that medium is chronicled here).

It’s a Kickstarter campaign for RISE: Comics Against Bullying.

What this project is:

RISE, a multi-issue anthology comic book series written and drawn by a collection of established names and up-and-comers, aims to spark conversations and provide resources for at-risk youth in an accessible and engaging format.

The goal is:

To get this issues of RISE to those who need them, we’re aiming to raise enough funds to print the first two issues in large enough quantity that we can distribute them freely. Our initial plan is to provide:

Print copies of RISE for Stand for the Silent to distribute in schools

Flyers with digital download codes of the series for Stand for the Silent to distribute after their presentations

Print copies of RISE for Prism Comics to use for fundraising and distribution to those who need them

Northwest Press will make copies available for sale at low-cost to comics retailers through Diamond Comic Distributors.

Additional stock will be made available to our current and future nonprofit partners, moving forward.


My history with this project:
One my good friends Joey Esposito a while back rounded up the troops to see who’d be interested in contributing comics and some prose as well for an anti-bullying anthology. Joey through his time reviewing comics helped me get back into the artform, and more so than I ever was before. I was glad to help out in any little way I could.

While Joey’s been working tirelessly on projects he’s brought to fruition with great success like Footprints, Captain Ultimate and Pawn Shop he’s also been lining this project up and got it some great support like GLAAD, Stand for the Silent, Prism Comics and Northwest Press and now the next step is on the whole interwebs to fund at least the first two issues.

WRITTEN IMAGES

Written Images (Mike Krumlauf)

My third and final piece of film activism is another Kickstarter Campaign.

What This Project is:

An experimental coming of age film that follows two gay men in Chicago as they find themselves and each other.

Steven, an emotional introvert has recently moved to Chicago from Europe to further his education. Undecided at what his major should be, a class project helps him discover his vocation in life and make the friends he was always yearning for. Nick, a young photographer suffering addiction in multiple forms, has his morals put to the test when he meets Steven. Together they begin A journey of self discovery, love and redemption in the backdrop of modern Midwestern America.

Written Images plans to deliver an honest, heartfelt story of finding yourself, falling in love, and growing up in the likes of Mr. Hughes. Visually, the film is being shot on Mini DV, HDV, & RAW. The film is utilizing the different formats to convey the disarray both character’s lives are in.

Why This Can Work: First, it inspired the actors to create the following (at the link below) in an impromptu fashion.

Unofficial Teaser Trailer

Secondly, what Mike Krumlauf has done all leads towards using multiple video formats and telling an experimental narrative.

Here were some of the standouts on his vimeo:

A taste of his visual style:

Darkness Falls 2 from Mike Krumlauf on Vimeo.

His first feature was a doc that implemented similar techniques in a doc:

A Place to Call His Own – Amazon Release Trailer from Mike Krumlauf on Vimeo.

Some passage of time editing/visual storytelling:

A Year In Review 2013 from Mike Krumlauf on Vimeo.

Lastly, this film can work because it has the likes of Jelle Florizoone (North Sea Texas, Allez, Eddy! and Headlong) attached. And as evidenced above simply with voice over and images of Chicago, this could be a very intriguing artfully rendered feature with those involved if it only gets off the ground.

So while it can be a bit daunting to see I clumped these three together give each of these a look (especially the Kickstarters) and see if they interest you, my books are cheaper and don’t have a limited shelf-life.

Review: Labyrinthus

Labyrinthus is, like many films around the world, a multi-national co-production. It is essentially a Belgian film as the talent involved hails from there, it’s in Flemish with smatterings of French and it’s Belgian-set in a very vague way. It tells the story of Frikke (Spencer Bogaert) who discovers a video game by chance and beneath the surface of this mysterious game is something sinister. It is plunging kids from the neighborhood into the game, while simultaneously sending their real-world into inexplicable comas. This creates a precarious symbiosis. Frike’s mission then is to discover who the nefarious creator of the game is.

This is not the first children’s film to deal with video games that I can think about off the top of my head. The obvious allusion would be to Spy Kids 2. However, what differentiates this film is the aforementioned duality. We mainly see the comatose character’s personae in the game. However, there is a tonality to it that is unique. The film is not overly-concerned about creating a video game onscreen. While this can be read to mean that the visual language isn’t terribly inventive, and the CG is nothing to write home about; what that thought would overlook is that it is interested in developing characters in these situations that we get to care and know about, also allowing them many crucial moments of decision and action. It also manages to craft some interpersonal relationships we care about.

This film also wastes no time getting things underway. Frikke’s introduction to the game comes very quickly. Characters and visual clue immediately spring to fore; Frikke’s very soon aware that something very odd is going on and that he has to get to the bottom of this mystery. It should be expected but a film with a brief running time should move well and this film does.


All those character and relationship moments are inevitably buoyed by the excellent performances by the young cast. It is shocking to consider that this is Spencer Bogaert’s first screen credit as he carries himself with the certitude of veteran. His presence is engaging and he easily conveys an every-kid type. Felix Maesschalck whose few moments in Time of My Life where rather is, in heartbreaking and beautiful scenes, here demonstrates a different type and shows a decent amount of range. Also notable is Emma Verlinden as Nola who has a genuine cinematic radiance.

The tonal balance that this film reaches is is perhaps what makes it work best. Any stuck-in-a-video-game film needs a fair bit of whimsy, but considering the stakes it also needs the correct amount of gravitas. Labyrinthus has enough of both and keeps it light at times, has its humor but also plays the drama and romance up where appropriate.

Labyrinthus may find its way to US audiences, like the recent Attraction Entertainment title Antboy, did. If it does it is a family-friendly tale that is well worth seeking out and should prove entertaining to viewers of all ages.

7/10

Review: Misunderstood (Incompresa)

I was fortunate enough such that the stars aligned and I was able to attend a New York Film Festival screening of Asia Argento’s latest feature-length directorial effort: Misunderstood (the original Italian title being Incompresa). Asia as a director came to my attention with the release of The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things, a film that was among my favorites of 2006 and of the past decade. It’s hard to remember which came first but there was a rather fortuitous symbiosis of my discovering both her work on/off the screen and that of her father internationally renowned Italian horror and giallo director Dario Argento.

In certain ways there are parallels between her latest effort and The Heart is Deceitful… in terms of visual motifs and story tropes. However, the main difference is one of intended tonality. With the prior film it’s a much starker, more harrowing journey for a mother, but mainly her child. Whereas here while there are some serious, heavy growing-pains dealt with there is also a lot of humor, warmth, sensitivity and joie de vivre. The reason for this is that there is each of these past two films and honest understanding of intention of how emotion and mood could be evoked. Whereas before Argento’s eye was the lens through which she refracted J.T. Leroy’s then-purported-to-be-true memoir, here she turns her sensibilities towards a story of her own making.

There has and can be much discussion of how much of this film is autobiographical with protagonist, Aria (Asia’s birth name), being the daughter of a famous father and other things. However, regardless of that she is the auteur of this oeuvre directing and co-writing the script and the music. It’s her vision and the truth she finds in this story is a universal one. For nine-year old Aria (Giulia Salerno) there are many rites of passage, both large and small, that occur in this film. As idiosyncratic as her family is, as caricatured as her parents are, there is still a kernel of truth at the core of the film that allows it to speak to you whether you’re Italian, American or Chinese; man or woman; straight, gay or otherwise; fairly young or old.

The characters’ foibles is also where her directorial sleight of hand comes into play. The film is told from Aria’s perspective and when it does slip into flights of fancy it doesn’t blare it from the mountaintops but allows it to wash over you fluidly and then for you to realize what had occurred. The key to this film keeping its feet on the ground while reaching up is that at her core Aria doesn’t seek changes or make ultimatums she merely wants to be loved and essentially accepts everyone as they are warts and all.

Misunderstood (2014, Orange Films)

Due to the fact that this was a festival screening we were treated to a Q & A after the fact and one of the many insightful answers Miss Argento gave were about the young star of the film, Giulia Salerno. Asia having been a young actor herself, having children, and also teaching acting to children has a keen eye not only for talent but for kids who she says “are pushed into and kids who want it [acting].” Salerno is type who wants to act and it shows in her performance as she effortlessly communicates emotion, is engaging and charismatic.

A testament to the way this film moves and structures itself in small, somewhat isolated sequences that form a coherent whole allow characters whom are typically over-the-top-types; Mom, a party girl who refuses to settle down in an adult relationship (Very convincingly portrayed in a bilingual performance by Charlotte Gainsbourg), and Dad, a short-tempered, superstitious, vain actor (Engagingly brought to life by Gabriel Garko), to have moments and to let down their façade and be more human. Argento also did well in crafting the script and picking actors who could emote beyond merely the text and convey their characters through action.

The thread that really holds this film together is the music, which seamlessly blends obscure source music from the period (1984), scoring and new songs fashioned to emulate the mid-‘80s sound. It gives the proper emotional tenor as well as transitioning the story between scenes and sequences. It’s one of the rare cases of the music being used in all possible ways to enhance the whole of the film.

Misunderstood
is refreshing inasmuch as its a coming-of-age tale that does not focus solely on one rite. It’s a slice of life for Aria’s character with many of the usual concerns: schools, friends, first crushes and the like, as well as some other concerns conveyed in somewhat more unorthodox circumstances such as her relationship with her siblings with the spiritual world and more. It’s a film that wants you to laugh along with it as it’s trying to strike that universal chord that rings true to all regardless of circumstances. Misunderstood is aptly named very ably portraying not only its protagonist’s being misunderstood but also understanding her at a deep, fundamental level and conveying her story clearly.

8/10

2014 BAM Award Considerations – September

I decided that with the plethora of BAM Awards-related post towards the end of 2013 and the start of this year it was best to wait to the end of this month before officially recommencing the process.

I will post these lists towards the end of the month to allow for minimal updates. By creating a new post monthly, and creating massive combo files offline, it should make the process easier for me and more user-friendly for you, the esteemed reader. Enjoy.

Eligible Titles

Rosemary’s Baby
Antboy
Dolphin Tale 2
The Drop
Refuge
If I Stay
The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story
When the Game Stands Tall
Paris-Manhattan
No Good Deed
The Maze Runner
Petals on the Wind
Tusk
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Picture

The Drop
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Foreign Film

Misunderstood

Best Documentary

Most Overlooked Film

As intimated in my Most Underrated announcement this year, I’ve decided to make a change here. Rather than get caught up in me vs. the world nonsense and what a film’s rating is on an aggregate site, the IMDb or anywhere else, I want to champion smaller, lesser-known films. In 2011 with the selection of Toast this move was really in the offing. The nominees from this past year echo that fact. So here, regardless of how well-received something is by those who’ve seen it, I’ll be championing indies and foreign films, and the occasional financial flop from a bigger entity.

Antboy
The Drop
Refuge
Misunderstood
Tusk

Best Director

The Drop
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Actress

Krysten Ritter Refuge

Best Actor

Tom Hardy The Drop
Brian Geraghty Refuge
Dylan O’Brien The Maze Runner
Micahel Parks Tusk

Best Supporting Actress

Noomi Rapace The Drop
Genesis Rodriguez Tusk
Charlotte Gainsbourg Misunderstood

Best Supporting Actor

James Gandolfini The Drop
Stacy Keach If I Stay
Logan Huffman Refuge
Will Poulter The Maze Runner
Thomas Brodie-Sangster The Maze Runner
Haley Joel Osment Tusk
Gabriel Garko Misunderstood

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Leading Role

Cozi Zuelhsdorff Dolphin Tale 2
Chloë Grace Moretz If I Stay
Julia Salerno Misunderstood

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Leading Role

Oscar Dietz Antboy
Nathan Gamble Dolphin Tale 2
Dylan Everett The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story

Best Performance by a Young Actress in a Supporting Role

Amelie Kruse Jensen Antboy
Anna Lou Castoldi Misunderstood

Best Performance by a Young Actor in a Supporting Role

Samuel Ting Graf Antboy
Jakob Davies If I Stay
Gavin Casalegno When the Game Stands Tall
Blake Cooper The Maze Runner
Andrea Pittorino Misunderstood

Best Cast

Antboy
Dolphin Tale 2
The Drop
The Maze Runner
Misunderstood

Best Youth Ensemble

Antboy
Dolphin Tale 2
The Unauthorized Saved by the Bell Story
The Maze Runner
Misunderstood

Best Original Screenplay

Tusk
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Adapted Screenplay

Antboy
The Drop
Refuge
Petals on the Wind

Best Score

Antboy
The Drop
If the Game Stands Tall

Best Editing

Antboy
The Drop
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Sound Editing/Mixing

The Maze Runner
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Cinematography

The Drop
The Maze Runner
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Art Direction

Antboy
The Drop
No Good Deed
The Maze Runner
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Costume Design

Antboy
If I Stay
The Maze Runner
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood

Best Makeup

Antboy
Dolphin Tale 2
The Drop

Best Visual Effects

The Maze Runner
The Boxtrolls

Best (Original) Song


Antboy
Refuge
The Boxtrolls
Misunderstood