Tuesday, 22 March 2011

AFED #80: Themroc (France, 1973); Dir. Claude Faraldo

If yesterday's film Bigger Than Life represented an affront to civilised, bourgeois values, then superficially Themroc should have society's moral guardians calling for martial law.

The trouble is that while Claude Faraldo's satire takes iconoclasm to its logical extreme, it does so in a manner that favours the ridiculous over the subversive. The result is an oddity that might be novel, even mildly amusing, but doesn't pose much of a threat from the margins.


Michel Piccoli, an actor whose name might as easily be a byword for seventies art cinema, stars as the eponymous anti-hero; an atavistic factory worker. Living in a dilapidated tenement with his nagging mother and a girl who's apparently his sister; Themroc's existence is clearly one of repetitive daily grind. After a confrontation with his boss at work he snaps and returns home to start tearing apart the flat and bricking up the entrance so he can live like a modern-day caveman.

Before long Themroc is inspiring others. He's joined first by his sister, with whom he breaks the ultimate taboo, and then by a woman across the courtyard is emulating him by smashing up her apartment. Down below the police are taking steps to deal with this antisocial insurrection, but Themroc and his followers laugh it off. To add insult to injury he even takes to killing them to roast on a spit in his flat! By the end of the similar incidents elsewhere in the vicinity suggest that our neanderthal revolutionary has started a city-wide uprising.

The film's most notable characteristic is that the story is told without any intelligible dialogue. Themroc grunts, groans, chokes and laughs but he never articulates. Even the brief utterances from other characters are comprehensible, which I suppose at least dispensed with the need for subtitling for the international market. It's primitive cinema in the most literal sense; foregrounding the visual and redolent of the great silent comedians.

It all makes another Piccoli social comedy of similar vintage, Marco Ferreri's infamous La Grande Bouffe (Blow -Out), seem subtle by comparison. As a critique of modern society Themroc has more in common with the lunatic zeal of underground comics than the absurdism of Beckett or Ionesco.

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