“Taxidermia” is Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi’s follow up to his acclaimed “Hukkle”, and is another film obsessed with the act of eating and consumption, here taken to disgustingly literal extremes. Inspired by the short stories of Lajos Parti Nagy, the film is a non-stop assault on the senses and stomach which has invited comparisons with the works of Luis Bunuel, mainly due to the director’s use of repellently surreal imagery.
The film follows three generations of men, beginning with an unfortunate soldier called Vendel serving a cruel lieutenant at a remote military outpost in Hungary during the Second World War. Forced to live in a freezing shack, he develops an unhealthy sexual obsession for his superior’s wife and daughter which leads to tragic and revolting consequences. The result is the birth of his son Kalman, who grows up to become one of the country’s top speed eaters, entering competitions organised by the communist regime. Although hugely overweight, he finds love with an equally large lady, though has to contend for her affections with an ambitious fellow ‘athlete’. The final section follows his son Lajos, a thin wiry man who looks after his now morbidly obese father while carrying out his trade as a taxidermist and raising monstrously large cats.
Viewers should be warned from the start that “Taxidermia” is a shockingly graphic film. From the opening scene of a man getting sexual kicks by licking then burning himself with a lit candle, director Palfi never lets up, throwing in almost every type of sexual perversion imaginable. Packed with images of flesh, meat, excess and obsession, the film revolves around sex in a variety of forms that frequently borders on hardcore, featuring erections, bodily fluids and some decidedly inappropriate penetrations. However, it is clear that Palfi is not aiming for titillation or eroticism, in fact quite the opposite, since the sex tends to feature the grossly obese, animal carcasses or worse. Added to this are bloody scenes of animal slaughter, self-mutilation, vomiting and other things which really have to be seen to be believed – again it should be underlined that “Taxidermia” is a deeply disturbed and disturbing film, and one which is certainly not for the weak of stomach or casual thrill-seekers. However, although all of this may sound, and indeed frequently is rather unpalatable, the film is funny and even playful throughout, with plenty of gruesome sight gags, and many scenes will leave viewers unsure of whether to laugh or reach for the sick-bag.
Despite the relentless torrent of repulsive imagery, “Taxidermia” is no mere freakshow or slice of empty shock cinema, as Palfi consistently manages to find the humanity in his characters, and instead of simply parading them he strives to bring their stories to life. Although it is understandably difficult to see past their grotesque appearances and appetites, he generally succeeds, and the film is strangely moving in places, particularly during the middle section. Of course, this may well be lost on many viewers, as may the fact that the film also works as a savage satire on modern Hungarian history, lampooning the hypocrisy of the communist regime through depicting human beings as consumers in the worst possible sense of the word.
It certainly helps that the film is very well made, featuring strikingly bold camera work and with Palfi seamlessly working in some horribly imaginative fantasy sequences that make for a truly surreal viewing experience. He shows a great eye for detail throughout, and the film is meticulously constructed without ever feeling forced or staged. Despite the warped subject matter and nauseating visuals, there are a number of moments of poetic beauty, and indeed the film as a whole has an almost lyrical feel.
While it confirms Palfi as one of the more interesting and fiercely original directors working in the world today, “Taxidermia” is likely to remain a cult item simply due to the fact that its graphic catalogue of perversions will quite possibly prove too much for many viewers. However, for those who can get past the fact that almost every frame is bursting with queasy imagery, the film actually works on an intellectual as well as visceral level, and shows a bleakly funny and thoughtful contemplation of the human animal.
Gyorgy Palfi (director) / Zsofia Ruttkay, Gyorgy Palfi (screenplay)
CAST: Csaba Czene … Morosgovanyi Vendel
Gergely Trocsanyi … Balatony Kalmán
Piroska Molnar … Hadnagyne
Adel Stanczel … Aczel Gizi
Marc Bischoff … Balatony Lajoska
Gabor Mate … Oreg Balatony Kalman