Dysfunctional boy film mesmerizing

LIZ BRAUN - Sun Media

, Last Updated: 6:01 AM ET

It's Not Me, I Swear! (C'est pas moi, je le jure!) is a look at the huge cultural shifts of the late '60s from the point of view of a wild child.

Leon (Antoine L'Ecuyer) is 10, and prone to apparent suicide attempts and much criminal behaviour. He's a little felon, is Leon, interested in tossing eggs on one neighbour's roof and trashing the house of another. He tells lies. (His beloved mother, played by Suzanne Clement, advises him to lie with conviction.) He is, in general, an appalling child, and you will love him.

Leon's parents fight all the time. His mom is a painter and a dreamer; his father a lawyer. The household erupts with parental fighting, and Leon's behaviour is often fight fodder for mom and dad. During one particular argument, Leon moves things along by getting the fire department involved. Somehow, all this chaos is absurd and often very funny. When it's not heartbreaking.

Leon's mother leaves the family and goes away to Greece. Leon and his brother are devastated. Nobody seems to know how to contact mom. Leon asks for her address, her telephone number -- but to no avail. When the little boy finally realizes that his mother really isn't coming home, he decides to take matters into his own hands and go to her. All he needs to do is steal some money and work out a getaway plan with his friend Lea (Catherine Faucher).

It's Not Me, I Swear! is an entirely magical film about how large the world looms to children. The situation at home for Leon reflects upheaval in the world at large; the story is set in 1968, and all the rules are being bent. Divorce is a filthy word, Leon is warned, but all the strict teachings of church and society are changing, and changing quickly. (On another level, the big issue for Leon is abandonment; this is a film from Quebec, so there may be a whole other political and philosophical interpretation available there. Extrapolate at will.) The film mixes comedy and tragedy with a light hand and never strays into sitcom excess or exaggeration.

And thanks to cinematographer Andre Turpin, the film is dreamy to look at. The world Leon lives in is seen from his 10-year-old perspective, so even his worst transgressions unfold with some sort of innocence. It's not that you feel you're back in 1968, it's that you feel you're back in childhood. Visually, It's Not Me I Swear! is mesmerizing.

It's Not Me, I Swear! was named one of TIFF's Top 10 Canadian Films of 2008, and was voted Best Canadian Film by the Vancouver Film Critics Circle. The movie is in French, with English subtitles.

(This film is rated 14-A)


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