looking for leonard (2002)


directors: matt bissonnette, steven clark

joel bissonnette, kim huffman, ben ratner

The Leonard in the title of Matt Bissonnette and Steven Clarkís Looking for Leonard is Leonard Cohen, patron saint of young people living in cities, waiting for something to happen. Once you understand this, itís hard not to think that youíve got Bissonnette and Clarkís film pegged as another sourly romantic study of life lived on a relatively insulated, privileged edge.

Jo (Kim Huffman), her boyfriend Ted (Ben Ratner) and his dimwit brother Johnny (Darcy Belsher) rob corner stores and dry cleaners for a living. When theyíre not doing that, the boys sit around their apartment talking to and about the TV while Jo sits in the corner, reading and radiating hatred and frustration. The boys dream of graduating to banks; Jo wants to get out, but canít think of a way.

One night she meets Luka (Joel Bissonnette), an unemployed Czech, while shoplifting. There are sparks, so she takes him home, where Johnny surprises them and gets his head bashed in for his trouble. Luka leaves, Jo fakes a break-in, but overlooks Lukaís wallet, inadvertently framing him.

Shot on a shoestring budget, with the cast and crew sleeping above an abandoned corner store where they built their sets, Clark and Bissonnette have made a silk purse of Montrealís beautifully run-down industrial neighbourhoods and an abundance of stylish secondhand furniture. At times, the film seems to be aiming to re-create the dingy teak-and-fur-rug modernism of the late 60s and early 70s; considering the age of the cast and crew, itís hard not to see it as a kind of time-release nostalgia for post-Expo Montreal, a time when Canada tried mightily to be seen as a vital, maturing culture.

Itís the most ambitious thing about the film, since none of the characters - with the exception of the late Justin Pierceís brief but lively role as a cynical squeegee kid - are allowed an emotional moment that breaks the still waters of sullenness and confusion. The film is like the youthful fantasy world where itís set, striving for and attaining a very compelling and watchable coolness, at the cost of real, potent, messy drama.