Leon: "We can start a new life."
Lea: "But we're only 10 years old."
Leon: "Exactly. It's not too late."
What do you do when you're young and want a normal life, but you're stuck between constantly battling parents - one who wants to be perfect and the other desirous of a more free spirited life? If you're Leon's older brother, you don't question anything, force yourself to be happy and just hope things will work out. If you're Leon, you question everything (even God), lie whenever possible and occasionally try to kill yourself.
Leon's mother: "It's bad to lie."
Leon and mother together: "But it's worse to lie badly."
Leon's mother doesn't give typical advice...Nor can she seem to function within her marriage to a man who never lies, wants to save the world and apparently doesn't have time for simple pleasures like picnics anymore. She wants to paint and not know what the next day will bring. Shortly after telling her two boys that she is suffocating, she flees for Greece.
Leon's behaviour becomes worse after this, but through all of it - the breaking and entering, the complicated fibs, the suicide attempts - Philippe Falardeau's film manages to keep the viewer's sympathies with young Leon. A huge reason for this is the quite extraordinary performance of Antoine L'Ecuyer as Leon (the young boy received a standing ovation from the audience when he came on stage after the film). He's so very genuine and natural and also possessed of great comedic timing - in particular during an hysterical sequence (probably the single funniest thing I've seen this year) where he ends up in the hospital due to a self-inflicted wound, claims blurred vision, fakes an eye exam, gets new glasses and is given a new bicycle by his Dad. As he rides off on it trying to see around the new glasses he doesn't need, his brother walks off in disgust stating that he's going to go out and break his tibia. Unfortunately, I can't do the scene justice.
Leon (after yet another failed suicide attempt): "Life wasn't made for me. But I guess I was made for life."
Leon is also dealing with the first blushes of love as he develops a relationship with young Lea - another child with family problems. There's some real moments of tenderness between the two kids and they both manage to show the intense pain of being without any kind of stability even though they are desperately searching for it. Perhaps the normalcy that Leon and his brother are looking for just isn't as common as they perceive it to be...
The period details of the film seem to be meticulously captured, especially a beautiful bowling alley complete with the old style pin boys at the back returning balls and setting up pins. The camera work is never flashy, but is used to great effect throughout creating some gorgeous scenes which when combined with the music (a lovely original score by Patrick Watson and an incredible sequence cut to the music of Sigur Ros) deliver the perfect mood. In fact, I can't think of a single thing that wasn't handled with the utmost care. One of the best Canadian films I've seen in a long time.