About two years ago my friend Cromwell recommended to me a film titled Léolo. He simply said it was about this boy who thought he was the only person with a penis. I went home, got on piratebay, and got a rough copy of this film. If one can fall in love with a film, I certainly fell in love with Léolo, and it remains the only film that can claim my cinephile heart in such a manner to this day. By this, I simply mean that while there are many good films, and a few great films out there, Léolo is in a category of its own. It is far from the perfect film, in terms of what most critics look for in such disgusting judgments. But it is real art. It is poetry.
Léolo is like the first snow of the year, out in the country, untouched, untainted, innocent; it is peacefully devoid of any of the pseudo-intellectual, hipster jack-off sauce that tends to accompany these fringe foreign films. It is its simplicity—its idealistic minimalism contrasted to the saturated, vibrant composition and eclectic soundtrack (Renaissance church choirs, traditional Arabic music, deep, haunting Gyuto monk chant, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, and more)—that makes this film so captivating for me.
Its non-linear storytelling is gently subtle, and not at all in your face and overly complex like other many other films try to be with that narrative. It is a child’s movie. It is the innocent film. Despite all the sexuality and partial nudity in it, it is the most child-like film I have ever seen. Its childishness is its aesthetic brilliance.
The film can be approached in a multitude of ways. There is definitely, as with all good films, strong psychoanalytic undertones going on here. There is the more apparent rampant Oedipal complex going on with Léolo, sure, but there is also the more subtle retentive anal development displayed by the titular character’s abhorrence towards his family’s daily tradition of shitting. This in turn leads to the incredibly strong Jungian preference of Perceiving in Léolo’s character. While on the subject, it goes without saying that Léolo is a very clear INFP—no doubts. And as with any stereotypical INFP film character he lives in this imaginary, dream like world that defies the reality of the real environment. And yet no other film I have encountered hypnotizes the audience into this dream world as well as Jean-Claude Lauzon does with his semi-autobiographical masterpiece, Léolo.
Nearly every scene in this film stands alone as a work of art in itself. Each so psychoanalytically anal—relatable to the everyday struggle. The strong, deep French narration throughout the film, the implicit adult version of Léolo that he never grew up to be, is sublime. One particular scene I’d share, one that is my all-time favorite, is where near the beginning of the film we find Léolo, covered in winter clothes, inside his house, reading a book (The Swallower Swallowed) with the light of the refrigerator. Léolo is dirty. The floor is dirty. The book is dirty, having been the only book in the entire house, used previously to support the family’s dinner table from rocking. Léolo poetically says in the narrative that the book requires enormous amounts of concentration to deliver from it its secrets. And is this not how we all should encounter film? Starved, poor, dispirited, deprived of our more basic Maslovian needs, clinging to the body that is not there, in physical suffering, but in total meditative freedom.
The ambiguity of the ending reminds us of how dreamlike the entire concept of the film is, and yet it somehow reminds us so deeply of our own lives and experiences. Upon finishing the film, you might feel like you just had a wet dream that spanned one hundred minutes.
In good books, good authors waste no ink. Every word is there to mean something very powerful, and without which the sentence—and subsequently the narrative as a whole—would crumble. Jean-Claude Lauzon, as the director, pens his magnum opus in such a manner, whereas each character, every detail, is not wasted. It all carries something with it.
This film is deeply spiritual, rebirthing. It feels like going to church, or, more appropriately, a monastery. It is soulful, thrilling, audacious, and, most of all, innocuously beautiful.
This film is bizarre, in the most good and noble sense of the word. There simply is not another gem like it, though it has been, to no surprise, compared to the famous French director, Francois Truffaut’s, childhood, which he himself incorporated into many of his films, particularly The 400 Blows. In retrospect, it is probably the closest any film comes to being like Léolo. And yet, it is still so very far away. thephilosophicalboy.wordpress.com/