Wednesday 3 January 2018

Themroc (France 1973: Dir Claude Faraldo)

Continuing my series of viewing notes of films screened at West Norwood FEAST Film Nights over the last few years, here's some thoughts on Themroc.

This year (2015) the French Canadian director Jean Marc-Vallée made Demolition, a Hollywood movie featuring a tortured soul who starts to dismantle appliances and later buildings to work through his emotional crises. 43 years ago the French director Claude Faraldo directed Themroc, a movie where a tortured soul has a bad day at work, comes home, turns his entire front room into a cave, shacks up with his sister and eats a policeman. Two films, two building sites. Come on, which one would you rather see?

Themroc is a dark but hugely funny howl of rage against oppression, the strictures of work and everything that prevents man from being primal and free. Made five years after the Paris riots of 1968, there’s more than a whiff of anarchy and Situationist politics in the air as we follow Themroc: preparing for and on his journey to work; his sacking (because he witnessed his boss and secretary fooling around); and his subsequent orgy of destruction after he returns to his flat, grabs his just-clothed sister and walls up the living room door, before creating a cave mouth where the back wall used to be.

I’ve seen this film a number of times over the years. My first viewing, as a teenager, admittedly left me rather cold – it seemed that director Faraldo just wanted to shock with his scenes of incest and cannibalism – don’t worry, you’re spared most of the detail. But watching it some years later, and again recently - with the benefit of at least one mid-life crisis behind me - I appreciated not only Michel Piccoli’s superhuman performance (literally – watch for the scenes where he takes a loaded wheelbarrow upstairs and moves a car with his bare hands) but also a brilliantly nuanced one. 

Communicating without language - his vocabulary consisting of a series of increasingly guttural snarls, howls and grunts (his fellow actors just speak gibberish, save for a few words of French) - Themroc is a bewildered stranger in his own broken part of France, trying to make sense of his own feelings and escape his dull existence.

Praise also for the supporting cast: Jeanne Heviale, who plays Themroc’s mother, is excellent, her face portraying a constant mask of disappointment whatever her son does, whether being late for work or throwing the best cutlery out of his newly formed cave mouth.  Also Beatrice Romand as his sister, who turns in an extraordinarily sensual performance amid the distinctly un-erotic ruins of Themroc’s flat. 

Themroc is a film which in its own desire not to be taken seriously becomes the perfect vehicle for the Situationist concept of non-competitive play being the one thing that is truly liberating for the self. Themroc’s cave and actions are the inverse of the walled in flat-dwellers around him, and he emerges as the hero of the piece despite his apparent madness: he’s a tenement - and rather pervy - King Lear.

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