New Films from Quebec at the MFA

Their timing might not be the greatest, starting a week or so after the heartbreaking loss of the US hockey team to Canada at the Vancouver Olympics, but the New Films from Québec series at the Museum of Fine Arts warrants your consideration. Who knew that a vibrant foreign language film industry lay just a couple of hundred miles to the north? One that combines the best features of Hollywood and European filmmaking?

It opens tomorrow night with a screening of Philippe Falardeau's "It Wasn't Me, I Swear!" The title is just one of many lies told by 10-year-old Léon, a fractious and strange child who as the film opens is trying to hang himself. But he is destructive as well as suicidal, egging a neighbor's house, breaking into another's and setting fire to his parents' bed.

That's where the problem might lie -- his mother is a little off herself and his father is a human rights worker who can't solve his own domestic crises so he drinks a lot. Despite her oddness, or because of it, Léon adores his mother, so when she flees for Greece he gets even more out of hand. He gets together with Léa, an abused neighbor girl his own age, and the two  plan... something.

Antoine L'Écuyer as Léon's is heartbreaking and hilarious, and his voiceover narrative, unlike many in this kind of film, is kooky and not cloying. He looks oddly like young Macaulay Culkin from the "Home Alone" films, and the resemblance might lull you into thinking this is that kind of a Hollywood comedy. Then abruptly something disturbing or extraordinary occurs - Leon runs screaming across the lawn to snatch the suitcase of his departing mom, he sits down at a harpsichord and expertly plays a Bach prelude, or blood spurts from a sudden wound - and the expectations shift and you realize you're not in Hollywood anymore.

New Films From Québec runs through March 13.

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