Vase de Noces (aka Wedding Trough) screened at Imagine Fantastic Film Festival 2023
In the opening sequence of director/co-writer Thierry Zéno’s Vase de Noces (Wedding Trough), an unnamed man (co-writer Dominique Garny) takes a dove out of its wire cage, and tries – with limited success – to place a doll’s head over its head. It is a peculiar act: an attempt on the one hand to hybridise a human with another animal, and on the other to transcend the earthly towards something more heavenly (the bird, masked with the cherubic human face, resembles nothing less than a winged, living angel).
Certainly Zéno’s feature debut is earthly, set in the muddy environs of a large dilapidated farmhouse without electricity, where the man subsists, at least initially, on the vegetables and meat that this property yields, with no one but his livestock (chickens, turkeys, geese, ducks and a single sow) for company. The man is mute and childlike, devoting his free time to kite flying, hoop rolling and games of blind man’s buff – but he is also an adult, with his own base needs that have never been civilised. He defecates in a tub outside among his animals, he closely observes the poultry as they mate, and he himself reenacts this congress with the sow, which he jealously loves, in another hybrid union of human and beast (giving rise to the film’s other, rather prosaic English title, The Pig Fucking Movie).
Vase de Noces is a film of the body and its functions – appetitive, sexual, excretory – where birth, death and everything in between are observed as part of life on the microcosmic farm. There is even a layer of the spiritual, or at least a yearning for it. For the man rings the steeple bells and crosses himself before eating one of the birds from his animal family, and also, in an act of ritualistic collection, preserves in jars both relics from the birds that he has otherwise used in soups, and samples of his own ensuing ordure.
In other words, the film, shot in unforgiving monochrome without the comfort of dialogue or commentary, is a perverse allegory of the human condition in extremis, with the zoophilia of the first half giving way, as this agricultural ecosystem breaks down, to even more desperate Salò-style coprophagy. For as the man, very much through his own fault, loses his livestock, he is left all alone, with only his own waste matter for food, in an evolutionary cul de sac where one end or another is inevitable. Yet after all these bestial goings-on, Zéno still finds, in his final surreal image, room for his wayward protagonist’s redemption and ascension.
Vase de Noces is a film better known for its reputation than for its actual content. Banned for decades in Australia on grounds of obscenity, and creating a tense friction that lasted for years between the Perth Film Festival where it played in 1975 and the government of Western Australia, the film has never had a theatrical release outside of festivals, and was not made available, except in bootlegged versions, for home release until the Noughties (in DVD editions that are still relatively difficult to come by). Make no mistake, taboos are certainly broken here, and there is animal cruelty too, with the real and the fictive not always easy to tell apart. Yet first-time viewers may be surprised to discover a work that, for all its grubby abjection, is closer to arthouse than slaughterhouse, establishing its own rhythms (to the accompaniment of Alain Pierre’s electronic score) and blank mode of presentation for a farmyard fable of humanity’s uneasy place in kingdoms both animal and divine.
strap: Thierry Zéno’s monochrome experiment is a perverse barnyard allegory of humanity’s relationship with the bestial and the divine
© Anton Bitel