Dir. Jean-Claude Lauzon. Canada. 1992

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Jean-Claude Lauzon's semi-autobiographical Leolo, the last film he made before his death in a plane crash in 1995, is a powerful and unique masterpiece that, for me, will never grow old. Dramatizing the thin line between art and madness, Leolo is one of the most unique films ever made: vulgar, audacious, imaginative, disturbing, yet deeply compassionate. Though Leolo feels very personal to me, it is a film made for every outsider whose environment is so devoid of the things that nurture their souls, that, to survive, they must escape into a world of dreams, surviving only by being a spectator to their own life.  

12-year-old Leolo (Maxime Collin) lives in a squalid tenement in Montreal, Canada, yet to him, he is no longer Leo Lozeau but an expatriate Sicilian named Leolo Lozone. Blaming his grandfather for infecting everyone with his errant genes, the boy lives in a home where insanity rules, affecting most of his family, except for his mother (Ginette Reno). He describes his world as "strange, harrowing, stinking, with no friends and no light.” His father, a rotund sweaty man who has the warmth of a night patrolman, slinks around the house obsessed with everyone's toilet habits, making sure that everyone visits the bathroom at least once a day

Dreaming of his neighbor Bianca, a few years older than him, he navigates between his adolescent urges and the reality of his sordid existence, surviving only by resting his head “between two worlds, in the valley of the vanquished.” He reads in the basement with only the light from a half-opened refrigerator door and writes in his journal whenever he can, finding his “only real joy in solitude. Solitude is his castle.” When his brother is beaten up twice by the same thug, even though he has put on an enormous amount of muscle, Leolo notes that “fear lives in the deepest part of our being, no matter our outward appearance.”

His cry “Because I dream, I am not” enters our heart and buries itself until it is our own, a cry from the depths of our being. Filled with stunning bursts of poetry and a gorgeous eclectic soundtrack, Leolo is a touching, yet heartbreaking experience. For those who know what it means to grow up alone, at odds with the world around you, Leolo will make you feel that you have found a kindred spirit.


Howard Schumann

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