It is paradoxically fitting that the least obscure picture from a director about whom not much has been said and written is a wordless film entirely composed of grunts and gibberish. Claude Faraldo’s Themroc (1973), screening throughout March at the Spectacle, does away with dialogue and music and instead orchestrates the cacophony of working life into a destructive crescendo. The title character, played by a rasping Michel Piccoli, goes about his daily grind with bovine obstinacy, snarling his way through the city, the workplace and the apartment he shares with his mother and young sister. Reprimanded for having peeped on a manager and his voluptuous secretary, he goes on a troglodyte rampage back to his flat, whose front door he walls up only to tear down the wall of his living room. With the partition between private and public space gone, our hero regresses to the most primal needs and desires, removed from the line-produced order of society. Unashamed of his joyful bestiality, he turns his apartment into an open cave for everyone to look at, rekindling a primitive territorial reflex. Hunted down by the cops, the protagonist resorts to anti-authoritarian cannibalism, incest and disorderly conduct. Initially shocked, his neighbors will eventually be inspired by Themroc’s carnal insubordination and begin to demolish their apartments, too.
Asked on television what his film was about, Faraldo slyly noted that “Themroc is a guttural sound,” and though that may seem reductive, it actually evokes the film’s essence pretty accurately. Very much like the growls and snarls it is composed of, the film appeals to a pre-linguistic sensitivity. Shouts or groans, in fact, are not necessarily forms of barbaric expression: sometimes they simply evince the inadequacy of language faced with the impelling urgency of wants and dreams. Invested with an expressive impetus, the film and its protagonist—whose poetic postures actually match—articulate the futility of words in a world that never shuts up. By taking away dialogue and exposing the emotional void it often conceals, the film describes the functional objectification of modernity with neither spite nor condescension. Familiar sites appear suddenly alien when we simply listen to the white noise of urban life, and observe the uncanny similarity between objects, machines and human beings bereft of speech.
At a time when political angst was being elaborated mainly through the sterile verbosity of orthodox Marxism, Faraldo unleashed the utopian demons of creative destruction. With an unacceptable dose of transgressive aggression, Themroc deprives cinema and the spectator of rational excuses and provokes libidinal responses. The film literally and physically embodies what the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin described as the Grotesque Body, the body that “is not separated from the rest of the world [but rather] outgrows itself, transgresses its own limits” through base corporeal activity. Bodily emancipation, which is the acknowledgement and prioritization of needs over duties, is in Themroc the prerequisite to radical social change. The film’s critique of modern life is in terms not theoretical but compulsive: rhythms of production and consumption are incompatible with basic biology. The film celebrates without inhibition the attainment of class consciousness through exasperation, the refusal of work and the liberation of our deepest yearnings and obsessions.
Themroc followed Faraldo’s virtual debut, Bof…Anatomie d’un Livreur (1971), which came after his first feature La Jeune Morte (1965), a film few have seen and the director himself dismissed as “too arty.” Bof… contained already some of the themes Themroc would blow up, such as the moral insufficiency of the family and the unjust separation of work from leisure. The pantomimic dialogues and a visionary soundtrack by Jean Guerin relieved images of their illustrative duties and made Bof… stand out as a unique work of 70s (French) cinema. Uneasily sitting somewhere between the radical humanism of Alain Tanner and the gastric subversion of Marco Ferreri, the (early) cinema of Claude Faraldo has nothing in common with the coeval post-nouvelle vague of Philippe Garrel, Jean Eustache and their ilk. His films are in fact devoid of the arrogant self-pity and intellectual onanism the elites of Parisian cinema wear with pride. Even the glimpses of the French capital we get in Faraldo’s films widen the frame of spatial possibilities of a city too often reduced to its stereotypical landmarks. Both Bof… and Themroc are graced by an effortless naturalism that forces the spectator out of the usual position of respectful deference towards the director. “I make films to show that anyone can make them,” Faraldo confessed to the Spanish daily El Pais in a 1979 interview. “I don’t have what they call ‘a culture’ and I have no intellectual background,” he added. “Before making films I was a truck driver.”
As the 70s came to an end, though, the productive options for a director like Faraldo visibly ebbed, as the aimless peregrination of his 1980 film Deux Lions Au Soleil melancholically shows (the film initially was to feature Gerard Depardieu and Jacques Dutronc). Throughout the 80s and afterwards Faraldo would continue directing, with a few stints on the small screen, and would realize his last film in 2000, Merci Pour le Geste. After his death in 2008, the French daily Libération wrote: “of very humble origins, which he always reclaimed, Faraldo was in a class of his own within a distinctly bourgeois system such as that of French cinema.” Back in 1979, in the aforementioned interview with El Pais, the director of Themroc concluded with a candid remark that is worth reporting here in its entire length.
People told me, “Claude, why don’t you write a good script? Aren’t you fed up with your stories of workers screwing everything up?” They advised me to change topic, to make adventure flicks. Perhaps they were right. But I believe that what I do is neither easy nor convenient. When I shoot a film is because I have a strong need to connect with people and to show certain things. My films are vital reactions, they don’t work in relation to other films or in relation to culture in general. They are part of my life. I don’t like those who make films in a certain way and then live in a completely different way.