Tartan USA
György Pálfi/Hungary-Austria-France 2006

Vegetarians and the squeamish should steer well clear of György Pálfi’s sensational second feature, which displays a catalog of grotesquery so extreme it may well have Takashi Miike shaking his head in disapproval. But it’s also an audacious piece of film making that will prove rewarding for more adventurous audiences.

Telling of the travails of three generations of obsessive males in 20th century Hungary, Taxidermia is a spewing, spurting discharge of transgression. Copious amounts of vomit, semen and offal virtually smear the frame at regular intervals.

Structured in three segments, it opens in a remote army outpost during WWII where young, virile officer Vendel (Csaba Czene) spends his time peeping, masturbating and shooting flames out of his penis. In a fit of lust he unwisely impregnates the bloated wife of his superior Hadnagyné (Piroska Molnár) during an act consummated atop a pig’s carcass.

Fast-forward two decades and communism in full swing. Hadnagyné now coaches his son Kalman, who has grown up to be a professional competitive eater, desperate to beat his rivals from other USSR satellite states and run off with the girl of his dreams, Gizi (Adél Stanczel). The couple accepts a challenge to eat 40 pounds of caviar while Gizi is pregnant, but miraculously baby Lajos survives.

The final section presumably takes place during the dying throes of communism, and Lajos (Marc Bischoff) has grown up to be a withdrawn, gaunt taxidermist. He has to spend most of his time looking after his obscenely huge and incapacitated father, who can only mourn Hungary’s dwindling status in competitive eating championships and feed his obese cats lard.

The protracted, disturbing denouement is certainly fitting considering the excesses that have gone before, and consists of lengthy, lingering close ups of flayed flesh and organs that prompted much squirming in seats at the screening I attended.

Description does not really do justice to the torrent of bodily fluids and innards displayed in glorious close up throughout Taxidermia. But Pálfi’s film is not a bad-taste provocation in the style of John Waters. Pálfi obviously sees himself as something of a stylist, and bravura camerawork and artfully composed shots appear throughout. The effects work, including an impressive CG animated fantasy scene styled around Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Match Girl, looks expensive and assured.

Taxidermia’s general sense of no-holds-barred abandon does recall some of the more extreme cinema of recent times (such as work by the aforementioned Miike), but with a dash of East-European absurdity and magic realism.

How much of the narrative is a commentary on 20th century Hungary, I am not qualified enough to say. But I imagine the three depraved generations of Hungarian male are intended to represent facets of the country’s history. The subordinate Vendel of the first act is more concerned with self-gratification than fighting invaders, the gluttonous Kalman swallows everything his Communist masters throw at him, and the reflective Lajos is a nostalgic preserver of the debase morals of his forbears. Regardless of these subtleties, there are moments of broad satire, such as the final scene set in an English art gallery, that will resonate with any audience. But at times the film could do with more humor to offset its inherent weirdness.

As Hungary finds itself in the spotlight once again with the demonstrations against Prime Minister Ferenc Gyurcsány, perhaps Taxidermia is further evidence that Hungary is also returning to the wider cultural fold too. The eminence of Bela Tarr has been bolstered by the return to prominence of the old master Istvan Szabo, and Fateless has been widely admired on the festival circuit. Forthcoming films include a big-budget war drama Joy Division and the Joe Ezsterhas-scripted Children of Glory, suggesting a blooming Hungarian cinematic renaissance in 2006.

© 2006 James Rocarols. All rights reserved.

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