Directed by: Vadim Jean, Gary Sinyor
Starring: Mark Frankel, Janet Suzman, Brian Glover, Connie Booth, David de Keyser
From a purely personal standpoint, Leon the Pig Farmer (1993) is one of the most bizarre of all movie-going experiences. The film’s not that strange, but the very fact that it’s a movie I liked, and that it was recommended to me by my mother, makes it peculiar. I’m still not clear on why she went to see it (I don’t think it was her idea), but she did, and she liked and thought I would too. She was right.
The film is a type of low-budget, small-scale, off-beat British comedy—with social commentary—that we don’t see much of anymore. It’s not that far afield from movies like Sammy and Rosie Get Laid (1987)—only less high-minded, considerably sillier, more fantasticated and decidedly Jewish. The whole shaggy-pig story revolves around Leon Geller (Mark Frankel), his Jewishness and his endless capacity for guilt, all of which is thrown into a turmoil when it turns out that there was a mix-up at a sperm bank, so that his father (David de Keyser) isn’t really his father. His father turns out to be a Yorkshire pig farmer (Brian Glover). Complications ensue when Leon goes to find his biological roots, especially when he has an artificial-insemination accident of his own, cross-breeding a pig and a sheep (the prospect of kosher bacon causes much excitement in the Jewish community).
The comedy is brisk and sometimes nicely fantasticated, and there’s a pleasantly human undercurrent to it all. Filmmakers Vadim Jean and Gary Sinyor borrow—and expand upon—a device from Richard Lester’s The Knack ... and How to Get It (1965) by having passersby comment on the action, which is one of the movies delights. Also splendid is Mark Frankel (who died in a motorcycle crash three years after the movie’s release ) in the lead. Not a great movie, but a great example of a type of film that could be made not that long ago for about $320,000. Roll that around and see what we’ve lost in the intervening 15 years.
Leon the Pig Farmer is part of a series of Classic Cinema From Around the World being presented at 8 p.m. on Friday, May 23, at Courtyard Gallery, 9 Walnut St. in downtown Asheville (enter at Walnut next to Scully’s or at 13 Carolina Lane). For more information, call 273-3332.