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Leon the Pig Farmer

A Film Review by James Berardinelli
RATING (0 to 10): 6.5
Date Released: varies
Running Length: 1:42
Rated: NR (Sex, discreet nudity, mature themes)

Starring: Mark Frankel, Janet Suzman, Brian Glover, Maryam D'Abo, Gina Bellman, Connie Booth
Directors: Gary Sinyor and Vadim Jean
Producers: Gary Sinyor and Vadim Jean
Screenplay: Gary Sinyor and Michael Normand
Music: John Murphy and David Hughes
Released by Cinevista

British humor is often at its peak when it mixes droll wit with Monty Pythonesque weirdness. This certainly isn't the perfect fare for mainstream America, but for those who enjoy a touch of the bizarre with their laughter, Leon the Pig Farmer makes an excellent one-hundred minute diversion.

Leon Geller (Mark Frankel) has reached a crisis point in his life. Dissatisfied with the lying and cheating inherent in his job as a London real estate agent, he quits. Frustrated with the futility of establishing a romantic relationship with his best friend, Lisa (Gina Bellman), Leon shocks his very proper Jewish family by engaging in a torrid affair with the non-Jewish Madeleine (Maryam D'Abo), whom he meets after nearly running her over with his car. Then, to cap off his troubles, Leon learns that he is the product of artificial insemination, and that the sperm bank mixed up the test tubes. His actual father is Brian Chadwick (Brian Glover) -- a pig farmer in Lower Dinthorpe.

Leon the Pig Farmer is a singularly entertaining motion picture. Its co-directors, Gary Sinyor and Vadim Jean, have paced the film effectively (until the very end, when everything sputters to an abrupt halt). The humor is spread around evenly, avoiding long periods of stagnation between the funny parts. There's a substantial dash of the unusual in Leon's comedy -- the sort of material that brings to mind Monty Python or Black Adder. The unexpected is often the greatest asset of such offbeat fare - and it's present in abundance. How many women will invite a man to their apartment for a cup of tea after nearly getting run down in the street by that person? How many times do strangers approach someone to give advice on intimate matters? And how often does the biological father of a kosher Jew turn out to be a pig farmer?

As enjoyable as all this zaniness is, there's a none-to- subtle message to go along with it about being true to oneself. The directors don't have an axe to grind, but they offer this for those who want substance amidst the silliness.

The cast contains a number of well-respected British actors, including Brian Glover and Janet Suzman. Known primarily for dramatic roles, these two give wonderful comic turns, proving that Leslie Nielsen isn't the only one who can put a staid reputation to good use. Maryam D'Abo is marvellous as the manic Madeleine, and hers is easily the standout performance. Mark Frankel, who plays Leon, sometimes overacts his role (especially when he's around pigs), but he generally displays a good knack for comedy. Connie Booth, a veteran of BBC comedy, including Monty Python and Fawlty Towers (which she co-created with then-husband John Cleese), has a supporting part.

It's easy to see why Leon has been such a hit on the film festival circuit over the past year. It's a thoroughly charming movie in the same vein as another little-known British comedy, Getting it Right. Don't let the title put you off -- pigs or not, Leon is a charmer.

1993, 1996 James Berardinelli

-- James Berardinelli
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Leon the Pig Farmer

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