“Just as the body is overcome by desire, so naturalism is overcome by surrealism…”–György Pálfi, director’s statement to Taxidermia
DIRECTED BY: György Pálfi
FEATURING: Csaba Czene, Gergö Trócsányi, Marc Bischoff
PLOT: Three short stories exploring three perverted generations, beginning with an extremely horny soldier in the private service of a lieutenant. His illegitimate child grows up to become a sport eater on the Hungarian national squad. The grandchild is a socially inept taxidermist who cares for his grumpy, obese father and his caged cats.
- This was Pálfi’s second movie, after the just-as-weird but much gentler Hukkle.
- The first two segments of the film are based on short stories by writer Lajos Parti Nagy. Pálfi wrote the third episode himself.
- While working on Taxidermia, Pálfi won the 2004 Sundance/NHK International Filmmakers Award, a $10,000 grant intended to be used to help the filmmaker create his next project. The grant includes a promise for Japanese distribution for the completed film (estimated value: $90,000).
INDELIBLE IMAGE: A man ejaculating a torrent of flame. (Don’t worry, you won’t have to watch long to catch this sight).
WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: By itself, the middle section of the triptych of stories—
English language trailer for Taxidermia
concerning the competitive eater with Olympic dreams—would have made a decidedly odd movie. Flank that tale with stories of a WWII soldier with a hallucinatory libido and a taxidermist with demented aesthetics, stir with surrealism and garnish with grotesquerie, and you have one of the 366 Weirdest Movies of all time.
COMMENTS: Taxidermia will almost break the needle on your “I never thought I’d see that in a movie” meter. A man ejaculating fire. A 360 degree pan of athletes vomiting into a trough. An old man as obese and immobile as Jabba the Hut, who keeps his growling pet kittens caged and fattens them up with lard. And those are just the main highlights. There’s also a beautifully shot scene with an impossibly rotating wooden tub that turns from a bath to a coffin to a cradle, a romantic montage parody featuring two fatties who pause to yak up their guts, and a man who commissions a keychain to be made from a fetus. I should stop now, before I ruin the film (not that there aren’t many more strange and often repulsive surprises in the movie to enjoy or to flinch at). I recite these incidents largely to stress the point that Taxidermia functions, more than anything, as a collection of individual images, some of which are beautifully weird, but most of which are aggressively thrust in our faces in an attempt to get a rise out of us.
The movie is held together by a plot, of sorts, involving three generations of Hungarian men. The first is Morosgoványi, a lowly soldier with a harelip in indentured servitude to a lieutenant, his fat wife, and his two lovely daughters in some bleak country locked in an eternal winter. Morosgoványi is insanely horny, to the point that lust totally deranges his senses. He is able to make love to a candle, and to enter into a children’s pop-up book. Finally, after months of self-imposed suffering, watching the daughters cavort in the hills while trying to pleasure himself in a knothole greased with lard (with disastrous results), he finds and seizes the opportunity to plant his pent-up seed, thus founding a dynasty insuring the perpetuation of his DNA through the generations. Or does he? His triumphant copulation scene is a mixed-up blend of crude sexual fantasy and uncertain reality, and although his superior takes vengeance on him for the tryst, the ambiguous shots suggest it’s as possible he was punished for ruining a feast as for despoiling one of the lieutenant’s women.
There are four erect penises in the first thirty minutes of Taxidermia (possibly five; I’m not going back to check). That’s probably more erect penises than you’ve seen in the last five movies you’ve watched, unless you have hair on your palms. It’s two and a half times as many erect penises as in the entire 109 minutes of Lars von Trier’s controversial Antichrist (2009). Among movie nudity taboos, the erect penis is the gold standard (the sequence goes buttocks, breasts, pubic hair, flaccid penis, erect penis). Not only do Taxidermia‘s viewers get to see an erect penis, they see it in live rutting action! Even more novel is a magical realist, computer generated ejaculation. Due to flagging censorship, it’s only been possible to slip an erect penis into even the most daring of art films in the last decade, and Pálfi plays with the image of the erect penis as if he’s found a new cinematic toy. But they’re really slipped into the narrative quite naturally, so you hardly notice them at all.
But back to the plot. Morosgoványi’s putative son is Kálmán, who grows up to become a trencherman with a gut of steel who represents Hungary’s best chance for a world championship in sport eating. He pursues a national championship while simultaneously trying to win the heart of the women’s eating champion, a national treasure who won the gold medal for hard-boiled eggs in Beijing, and fighting off Bela, his rival in both the athletic and romantic spheres. He does not have a visibly erect penis, but there are many scenes of Kálmán and comrades regurgitating after stuffing themselves. You may wonder how the literally vomitous special effects were accomplished. If you can accept an alternate history in which competitive consumption is a national passion, with stadiums full of spectators watching fat men in tights gobble down spoonfuls of stew and bean soup, accompanied by all the flag-waving pageantry of an Olympic event, this segment is the least weird of the three. In fact, it’s almost conventional; the oddest moment occurs when a chunky bride runs off with Bela on her wedding night and allows him to take her from behind, watching through the window while Kálmán sings a song to try to win her back.
Kálmán returns for the third segment, only now he’s grown into an immobile blob who spends his days watching sports eating on television, fattening his cats, and berating his rail-thin son, Lajoska. The third generation is a cadaverous taxidermist. Lajoska looks like a walking corpse with thinning wisps of blond hair, and he’s especially repulsive in the harsh artificial light of the grocery store, where he understandably grosses out the female cashier as he tries vainly to flirt with her. He and his obscene father have a domestic squabbles, but Lajoska has a secret plan to escape this world, embodied in an elaborate contraption in the basement of the taxidermy shop. The clinical portraits of meat and organs in this final segment seem tame compared to the perversion and vomit that has come before.
That is Taxidermia in a nutshell; but after watching this collection of images that are sometimes beautiful, sometimes shocking, and often both, we’re left to ponder what it all means. What is Pálfi intending to say, if anything? We can make some observations that don’t really get us very close to discovering any purpose in the movie. Obviously, the director is obsessed with the body, with sexuality, eating, and viscera. The tones of the three pieces are all slightly different: the first (and weirdest) is a surreal and perverse sex comedy; the second, an absurd drama-romance; and the third veers into horror terrain. Structurally, the story is written as a generational saga, but subverted: the line of descent from Morosgoványi to Kálmán to Lajoska is undermined at each coupling. Each of the three men has a different obsession: the solider is driven by lust; the eater, by ambition; and the taxidermist, the artist, by a desire for immortality. It’s possible that Lajoska’s final act is meant to be seen as a triumph, an artistic redemption for his inherited corruption, but emotionally, I find that theory unconvincing. Although he’s the most sympathetic of the three, there’s no real admiration for the taxidermist, and the feeling we come away with after watching the climax of Taxidermia is queasy fascination, not catharsis. There’s also the fact that each of the three men grows up under a different political order: fascism followed by communism followed by capitalism. There is a strand of the movie that allegorizes recent Hungarian history. Is that the point of the film? Perhaps a Hungarian might be able to stretch the events to fit that interpretation, but I think that most people will see the movie as a collection of startling scenes strung together with little intent other than to provoke.
There is obvious intelligence, imagination and craft in Taxidermia. That makes it a bit disappointing when we experience the movie’s the apparent lack of purpose. It does not even seem to be about purposelessness; it plays instead like a collection of scenes that intend to shock us with their repulsiveness, novelty and weirdness, which are redeemed by the director’s skillful ability to weave these threads into a strange kind of beauty. It’s curiously empty, and seems to have even less heart than it’s final exhibit. Is the movie recommended? Those with strong stomachs, who want to see sights that they have never seen before, have already made up their minds long before they’ve reached this point. Those hoping for an encounter with something deep, existentially resonant and mysterious are likely to be disappointed, and view Taxidermia as little more than a well-staged geek show. The best thing that can be said for Taxidermia, I think, is that the thrill of the strange, forbidden sights Pálfi delivers might ignite a lifelong obsession with weird cinema.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…Pálfi’s followup to the startlingly original ‘Hukkle,’ this widescreen exercise in the confrontational continues his fascination with the mysteries of nature but substitutes an oddly skewed sense of wonder with a full frontal sensory assault… the total is much less than the sum of its parts. Rather, the pic is more like a bigscreen equivalent of children pulling wings off live flies.”–Eddie Cockrell, Variety (contemporaneous)
“…only for fans of the bizarre and certainly not for those with even a faintly weak stomach. But for those meeting both qualifications: Welcome to a devious little nightmare.”–Matthew Sorrento, Film Threat (contemporaneous)
“…a brilliant, often grotesquely bizarre allegory on life in Hungary from World War II to the present, a surrealist fantasy exploring the limits of the body and its desires and altogether a darkly funny comedy on the human condition in extremis.”–Kevin Thomas, The Los Angeles Times (contemporaneous)
Taxidermia – the original Hungarian site (in English). Do yourself a favor and poke around the Flash section, where there’s an immense wealth of multimedia information about taxidermy, vintage pornography, Hungarian history and other topics hidden about like Easter Eggs
Taxidermia – official US site – much less immersive than the Flash-based site, but easier to navigate; it contains a longer, alternate director’s statement and three clips from the film
IMDB LINK: Taxidermia (2006)
OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:
Much Ado About Stuffing – Essay on the genesis of the film from The Guardian‘s Phil Hoad
Taxidermia at Cinematic Intelligence Agency – Some humorous comments, links and stills from the Australian “Cinematic Intelligence Agency.”
DVD INFO: A 42 minute “making of” documentary and a trailer are the only extras on the E1 Entertainment release (buy).
(This movie was nominated for review by reader “Rob.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)