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Saturday, January 25, 2014

DVD Review: It’s Not Me, I Swear!

It’s Not Me, I Swear! is a sweet, funny, endearing, captivating, honest, and slightly twisted dark comedy, focusing on the adventures and misadventures of a ten-year-old boy named Leon (in an excellent performance by Antoine L’Écuyer), who is having a tough time and seems to have few positive outlets for his energy (apart from the piano).

When we first meet Leon, he is hanging himself from a tree, while a pretty acoustic song plays on the film’s soundtrack. He is rescued by his brother, Jerome (Gabriel Maillé). Throughout the film, Leon speaks to us occasionally in voice over. At this point he tells us, “Jerome hates my deadly accidents, because afterwards Mom won’t let us hide in the freezer or play Lego in the middle of the street.”

We then see Leon interacting with his neighbors. He flips off a girl his age, Lea, who had just greeted him nicely. Another neighbor accuses him of throwing eggs at her garage. Leon’s mother comes to rescue him from this confrontation, and advises him, “If you lie, keep your story straight.” She then tells him: “It’s better not to lie, but it’s worse to lie badly.” Leon takes this to heart.

Leon’s father is a lawyer, a human rights activist, and his mother is a bit crazy. They fight, physically, his mom destroying a painting with a screwdriver, leading his dad to ask if she feels better now as a failed painter. She answers by slugging him in the face.

Leon picks up the screwdriver the next day and uses it break into the neighbors’ basement while they’re off camping (the father had told Leon to keep an eye on the house). He begins smashing things and making a general mess, but also playing their harpsichord beautifully. At one point, he urinates in their closet, aiming his stream onto several fur coats. (That scene is hard for me to watch, because that raccoon coat looks gorgeous – it’s like watching a scene where someone smashes a guitar. Hey, give me that coat, give me that guitar.)

Things become more difficult for Leon when his mother announces to him and to Jerome that she’s suffocating and is leaving for Greece the next day. Jerome tells her, “All the neighbors say you’re not normal.” While his parents are fighting about his mother’s desire to leave, Leon plays piano. When that doesn’t drown out the sounds of the argument, he dumps a small trash bin of papers onto his parents’ bed and lights the paper on fire. In voice over, he explains: “Sometimes I start a fire in a strategic spot. An old Indian trick for ending fights. I’d never tried a polyester bedspread. Dad, Mom and Jerome all put it out together. They looked almost like a normal family.” But then the next shot is his mother getting into a taxi. It's an excellent sequence.

Leon becomes close to Lea, the neighborhood girl his age, whose father has likewise left and whose uncle beats her. They begin to scheme to find ways to come up with money so that Leon can travel to Greece. And their relationship becomes sort of the center of the film, so that even when they’re doing terrible things, like breaking into people’s homes, you wish them to succeed. (Catherine Faucher is excellent as Lea.)

This film somehow finds just the right balance between drama and comedy. Its serious moments still have some humor, and its funniest moments are still quite serious. It’s actually quite a feat. When Leon slaps Lea, she tells him: “My uncle hits me too. Your slap is just a gust of wind.” It’s a serious moment, but yet has an odd innocence to it, and the film doesn’t dwell on it. They’re soon back to their schemes.

There’s a wonderful moment when they’ve broken into a home, looking for money, and Leon finds Lea in a girl’s room, crying over some dolls on the floor. He calms her by playing a toy piano. Later he tells her, “Maybe we can start a new life.” She reminds him, “We’re only ten, Leon.” He says, “Exactly, it’s not too late.”

It’s Not Me, I Swear! was directed by Philippe Falardeau, and is scheduled to be released on DVD on February 4, 2014 through First Run Features. There are no special features on the disc.

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