Movie Reviews : Uncaged Emotion in Lauzon’s ‘Night Zoo’ From Canada

It’s understandable why Jean-Claude Lauzon’s “Night Zoo” (at the AMC Century 14) has become the most honored Canadian film in years, perhaps ever. It has passion, energy and flash, not qualities we usually associate with the generally sedate Canadian cinema. It is far from flawless but is venturesome and entertaining, marking an exciting feature debut for Lauzon.

At heart it’s an unabashedly sentimental story of late-flowering love between a father and son, but it’s wrapped up in a heady film noir plot that involves lurid doings behind prison bars, in a peep show and in an exotic Montreal Chinatown brothel. (Credit Guy Dufaux’s darkly rich camera work and Jean Corriveau’s dramatic score for establishing an invitingly sleazy atmosphere.) It may not be the tour de force that “Diva” was--and to which it has been compared--but Lauzon is like Jean-Jacques Beineix in his go-for-broke approach and his lack of fear of emotion.

For the record:

12:00 AM, Jun. 03, 1988 For the Record
Los Angeles Times Friday June 3, 1988 Home Edition Calendar Part 6 Page 21 Column 1 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
The film “Night Zoo” has not been rated by the Motion Picture Assn. of America and is Times-rated Mature. It was incorrectly given an MPAA-R rating in a review last Friday.

Lauzon’s tender-tough hero Marcel (Gilles Maheu) is out of prison after serving two years on a drug charge but is immediately hounded by a pair of crooked cops, George (Lorne Brass) and Charlie (Germain Houde), out for his $200,000 stash. While trying to put them off, Marcel wants to take his ailing father Albert (Roger Le Bel) hunting at least one more time. (“Night Zoo,” be warned, is uncritical of big game hunting and decidedly unconcerned with the fate of endangered species.)

For all its unabashed heart-tugging, “Night Zoo” nevertheless rings most true in its depiction of its central father-son relationship. All the film noir trappings, as gritty and dynamic as they are, owe more to other films than to life, and the sullen Maheu is more convincing as a loving son than as an ex-drug dealer. The veteran Le Bel turns in a warm, expansive portrayal of a crusty, opinionated 65-year-old confronted with his own mortality.


Although not as accomplished or convincing as “Pouvoir Intime” or “The Decline of the American Empire” (whose director Denys Arcand makes a cameo appearance as a peep show customer), “Night Zoo” (MPAA-rated R for violence, some sex) has more razzle-dazzle, which is surely why it has received so much acclaim on home ground.