Hungary | 2006 | Directed by György Pálfi
Logline: Three generations of dysfunctional men; a lusty, flame-sucking soldier, an obese, champion extreme eater, and a ratty embalmer on an artful perversion.
The themes of copulation, consumption and preservation are studied in perverse, visceral and controversial detail in one of the most outlandish and exceptional tales of a family’s history ever to grace the screen. This is no Fanny and Alexander, although, magic realism does intervene from time to time, Taxidermia is a much darker and more desperate, yet is infused with an elusive lightness of being, an otherworldly zest for life, even at its grimmest.
György Pálfi was interested in taking the shock tactics of porn and horror, and incorporating them into a dramatic, blackly comic narrative so they become less about the self-serving machinations audiences are used to perceiving them as, and become integral parts of a real world, albeit one that still appears surreal and fantastical to a cinema audience. Taxidermia is hard to categorise, which makes it all the more intriguing; it’s essentially a tenebrous comedy, black as midnight on a moonless might.
The narrative triptych begins during WWII with Vendel (Csaba Czene), a hare-lipped soldier stationed at a muddy farmhouse with his lieutenant who treats him poorly. He oogles the farmer’s voluptuous daughters, masturbates and, after falling foul (porcine, to be precise) of the farmer’s wife his superior takes exception and executes extreme prejudice.
Vendel’s offspring, Kálmán (Gergely Trócsányi) is born with a wee piggy’s tail, which is severed in a circumcision of sorts, and grows to be one of the greatest competition eaters of Eastern Europe and even finds time to romance an equally large, obsessive woman Gizi (Adél Stanczel).
Their son, Lajoska (Marc Bischoff), a rail-thin rodent-like young man, has become an obsessive taxidermist (with a poster of Michael Jackson – Bad on his wall to illustrate celebrity perversion of appearance) who is forced to look after and pander to his gross father’s every need. His father has become a massive blob of flesh who consumes chocolate bars by the thousands, silver wrapper and all. Lajos has to feed his father’s huge competition cats and still manages to find time to service the weird requests of his clientele, like fetuses incased in Lucite.
The movie’s final sequence features Lajos in a final act of self-preservation that would make David Cronenberg wince and smile; body horror taken to a most bizarre and outrageous extreme that makes perfect, hideous sense. Both shocking and hilarious, Pálfi has pushed the boundaries of the parable, the fable, the fairy tale and the art film and melded his own unique sculpture of vulgar sexual/mortal catharsis. Familial soapy warmth gives way grotesque ordered chaos which in turn surrenders to nightmarish domesticity and finally the fragility of existence vs. the longevity of art.
Taxidermia sports fantastic production design, costume, and special effects, the performances are brave and compelling, and the camera work and mise-en-scene is frequently brilliant; Taxidermia has to be seen to be believed. Think Hans Christian Anderson, Gael Garcia Marquez, David Lynch, Dusan Makavejev, Jan Svankmajer and David Cronenberg all in the same dark room listening to each other’s strange and sordid secrets and finding ways to make each other chuckle and gross each other out.
Taxidermia is, without a doubt, one of the most original movies of the past twenty years. But be warned, it is certainly not for the squeamish, or those easily offended. This is transgressive cinema; dark sunshine that burns as it tans. Once seen, never forgotten, and for the more indulgent, it rewards with repeat viewings because of its symbolic, sociological, and satirical layers. Penetrate the orifice of the modern art film and prepare to have your sensibilities regurgitated.