I saw Thierry Zeno's Vase de Noces ('74) a little while ago. I intended to write about it immediately, but I needed some processing time.
It is an infamous, controversial film, and it was banned in several countries. I have learned that it wasn't banned in Australia. The censorship board there asked to take a look at it, but after Zeno appeared before them and explained his intentions with the film, they permitted it to be screened.
That should tell you that Vase de Noces is not pornography. In the 70's, pornography in motion (not photograph) was totally outlawed Down Under.
In fact, there is no hardcore footage of humans coupling with humans or humans coupling with hogs in this film.
There is lots of nudity, though. Naked man nudity. He's the only human in the film, a man-child with unconventional notions about life and creating it.
The first twenty minutes of the film felt very familiar. It was like I watching a gay version of Alex De Renzy's infamous Animal Lover ('71), the pseudo-documentary on Bodil, "The Boar Girl". That thing burnt a permanent tattoo onto my eyeballs. Unfortunately, I can't unsee it.
Animal Lover was set on a dirty farm amongst old, decrepit buildings. There's no narrative, per se, but it establishes a grotty milieu that seems consistent with its intention of showing a woman rutting with dogs and pigs.
The setting of Vase de Noces could easily be the same farm, minus a building or two.
The main character is played by the film's co-writer Dominique Garny. He lives alone, doesn't speak, and may be the last man on Earth.
After he is established in his home, he chases a pig, mates with it, and is rewarded with piglets several months later. Unfortunately, they're not horrific piglet/human hybrids with gnashing teeth and surly attitudes. They're cute, helpless piglets, and we get to see them oozing out of their mother's vagina.
Later, the man kills the piglets. He hangs them. We don't see this happen, but Zeno cuts to them dangling from strings over a trough.
Things get a little strange after that. Our "hero", who has been collecting feces and assorted bacterial compounds in jars (a ritual echoed loudly 20 years later in Katsuya Matsumura's All Night Long 3), defecates into a large bucket, mixes it with samples from his collection, and eats it (these scenes are tough to watch). After vomiting the feces cocktail up, and therefore completing the metaphor, he buries himself for a time, and is then renewed.
As stated previously, there are no pornographic images in this very experimental film that has a distinct Otto Muehl/Gunter Brus feel to it, and slightly better production values. If you're familiar with Viennese Actionist Cinema, you'll know what I mean. Even Dusan Makavejev's Sweet Movie springs to mind. Tonally, they're akin.
But it is Muehl's Manopsychotisches Ballet ('70) that Vase de Noces most resembles. Muehl's short work featured a great deal of nudity and fetishistic copulation. Bloodletting involving chickens was also incorporated into the overall anarchy.
Vase de Noces is certainly more disciplined, and it's narrative line is clearer, but it would not be a stranger in the company of the Actionists.
A more correct and apt translation of the title is Wedding Trough.
The recently released DVD from Freak-O-Rama includes a second disk devoted entirely to the making of the film. It is well worth the rather steep asking price of the DVD.
Zeno and co-conspirator Garny discuss ever aspect of the film, leaving absolutely no stone unturned.
They possess true independent spirits as filmmakers, and stand proudly by their eccentric, unconventional work.
Would I recommend the film? I'm not sure. I took a while to warm to it, and I definitely appreciated it more after I'd watched the interviews with its creators.
Definitely a chewtoy for open minds.