Theo and the Metamorphosis review – provocative drama of nudity and hating | Film

Guided by a deliberately monotonous first-person narration, French director Damien Odoul’s cryptic exercise in loneliness unscrolls like a visual diary. The opening half of the film has an observational documentary style, as the camera stalks about a secluded cabin in the woods where Theo (Theo Kermel), a young man with Down’s syndrome, lives with his photographer father. The line between nature and civilisation gradually erodes as the pair frequently roam around in the nude. Theo – or TO as he likes to call himself – even watches loud porn with his father sitting in the same room.

When the patriarch leaves for a work trip, the film sheds its realist veneer. From its tone of deference, TO’s voiceover morphs into impotent rage and resentment, as he speaks about a near biblical hatred towards his father. Forbidden desires and fantasies flare up like an unquenchable fire that annihilates any sense of stylistic as well as narrative coherence.

Unfortunately, this is when the initially intriguing slice of secluded life descends into hollow indulgence. TO’s somewhat amusing dream of becoming a trained samurai mutates into orientalist nonsense, as the film cooks up a porridge of Asian cultural practices that the young man wants to emulate, from jujitsu, tai chi, and Indian deities, to the Chinese philosophy of Qi.

There’s also a juvenile delight in provocation for provocation’s sake that is simply exhausting. Repeated nude vignettes and closeups of male genitalia being played with or mutilated soon evolve from playfulness into simplistic tactics to evoke the psychosexual turmoil that takes hold of TO. All in all, the only metamorphosis worth mentioning here is the film’s own transition into the kind of tiresomeness that gives arthouse cinema a bad name.

Theo and the Metamorphosis is released on 24 June in cinemas.

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