The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - THEO AND THE METAMORPHOSIS | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - THEO AND THE METAMORPHOSIS

Theo and the Metamorphosis review
A young man with Down's Syndrome is left to fend for himself when his father leaves the home in the woods they shared.

Review by Benjamin Poole

Directed by: Damien Odoul

Starring: Théo Kermel, Damien Odoul, Ayumi Roux, Patrick de Valette, Pierre Meunier

Theo and the Metamorphosis poster

We open in a subterranean cavern below an exceedingly bucolic French countryside. And within the darkness, a young man, whom we can tell is practised in spelunking due to his expert use of torch and rope, explores. There is an ominous rumble, and, as the caves are struck by a tremor, the reconnaissance turns to a scramble. Rocks plunge, the way out is treacherous: To’s surroundings are falling around him. When he reaches the daylight (in a shot framed as a ‘reveal’, indicative of the film’s mercurial representation of the condition) we recognise that the young man (Theo Kermel) has Down’s Syndrome. This is To, the titular character of Damien Odoul’s Theo and the Metamorphosis, and this intense opening is an inaugural metaphor for the ensuing narrative: a subjective journey into a murky subconscious, and the perilous impulses within.

Theo and the Metamorphosis review

Theo and his artist father (Pierre Meunier) enjoy a semi-survivalist existence in a to-die-for compound deep in the woods. They fish, knock about on quads, and pretend to be samurais. Well, you’ve got to have a hobby. The first act of the film depicts the pair as they skylark, often completely in the nude, about their unusual but happy life, all narrated by To’s sonorous voiceover. We are given the impression that this is an existence twice removed from society, where isolation has encouraged a quasi-feral way of living. Aside from throwing his father in rivers and cruelly chasing hares around paddocks as part of his ongoing ‘training’, To desultorily watches pornography with his dad in the room and draws the same image of a fortress over and over. In a Q&A after my screening, Odoul seemed to suggest that To’s genetic disorder was/is immaterial to the narrative, but this seems slightly disingenuous: several times the character speaks about his unique perception of the world, and with its vivid representation of a rarefied experience the film appears to explore what it means to be not like other people.

Theo and the Metamorphosis review

This representation is intensified when To’s father goes on a trip to the city, leaving To alone. After a goodbye warning him to be careful, the first thing To does is destroy his father’s works in progress, and the second is to drag his own bed outside and set it on fire. Or does he? In its interminable second half, we are never quite sure if what we are seeing is real or a manifestation of To’s fevered imagination; or, indeed, if To’s increasingly deranged experiences are a consequence of enforced solitude or his mental condition. Sexy women appear and either play with To’s dick or play fight him in the woods. He imagines his dead mother, who is instrumental in a really silly sequence where he is graphically castrated. And then, upon his father’s return, To kills him to death, bundles him up with a rope and throws him in the river for good. This last bit does actually ‘happen’, as, in the Q&A Odoul confirmed it, plainly stating that "it is very important to kill the father, for the earth," in the same self-evident way you’d explain to a child why they should eat their greens (the q&a was literally amazing: Odoul opened with the broad statement that Theo and the Metamorphosis would be his "last film" as the powers that be would probably never allow him to work again, before going on a rant about how conservative the Gallic film industry is for 10 minutes, despite evidently allowing and supporting the existence of this weird and provocative film we’d all just sat through. It was SO French).

Theo and the Metamorphosis review

You get the distinct impression that in the latter half of the film, stuff is just happening, with no real rhyme or reason to it, such is the scatter shot approach (especially in contrast to the careful invocations of the first few establishment sequences). To’s perspective, and introspection, give the film its unique slant, but even that can only go so far, and the conflation of To’s condition with patricide is unfortunate. Despite an occasional clumsiness and all the dicks flopping about, Theo and the Metamorphosis never comes across as exploitative, but does all feel a bit pointless.

Theo and the Metamorphosis is in UK cinemas and on VOD now.

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