A FilmExposed Film Review
Dir: György Pálfi, 2006, 91 mins, Hungary, Hungarian with subtitles
Cast: Csaba Czene, Gergő Trócsányi, Marc Bischoff
With Taxidermia, only his second feature, Hungarian director György Pálfi is already displaying maverick credentials. A tripartite tale of three generations of the same family, it begins with dim-witted Vendel (Czene) who exists to satisfy the whims of his lieutenant and his wife and daughters during World War II. Lasciviously spying on the women, he cavorts with the wife who becomes pregnant. Their child, Kálmán (Trócsányi), becomes a champion speed-eater and marries a fellow competitor who bears him a son, Lajos (Bischoff), who grows up to practise taxidermy.
Beginning with the formal experimentation of his debut feature, Hukkle (2002), Pálfi continues to carve out a niche in avant-garde cinema. This time, however, provocation is seemingly the order of the day with hard-core sex, gross-out imagery, and visceral gore likely to be the salient features in many spectators’ minds.
Structured as a classic trans-generational chronicle in the mould of Gabriel García Márquez, Taxidermia is a deeply weird film that’s as perplexing as it’s perversely fascinating. Adapted from two short stories by the Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy but with the third segment having been written by Pálfi and his wife, Taxidermia doesn’t always possess a plot that’s readily accessible. Relying on the spectator’s imagination and skills of deduction, the film can seem self-indulgently provocative whenever the storyline’s evolvement appears obscure. And when you’re presented with images of an erect penile flamethrower or multiple characters purging their stomachs of their contents before the next round of speed-eating, it can be difficult to interpret them as anything other than determined attempts to shock. But overall these images do coalesce to create a very particular world through which Grand Guignol, surrealism, Hans Christian Andersen (a pop-up book of The Little Match Girl comes fantastically to life in Vendel’s imagination), and body horror weave their blackly comic way along a magic realist narrative trajectory. The art departments have produced a stunning visual identity for the film.
But the cohesive thread running through the rather esoteric storyline is one of playfulness. In the virtually dialogue-free Hukkle, Pálfi’s freewheeling story in which episodic strands segued one into another to portray the cycle of life was a playful subversion of linear narrative cinema. Taxidermia, conceptually more audacious than Hukkle in terms of foregrounding the holistic nature of human existence, displays a playful attitude to the blood-red vein of dark humour being mined. Despite its somewhat dubious and deviant interests in obesity and carnality, the film remains an enjoyably wacky experience thanks to Pálfi’s tempering of such perversions with a taste for the jocular.
This playful quality and the existential motif in both films suggest an auteurist sensibility in Pálfi’s approach to visualizing story and developing characters. But he’s also attuned to the mechanics of a cinematic formalism similar in style to that of Italian contemporary Paulo Sorrentino (think THE CONSEQUENCES OF LOVE (2004)). Whatever your opinion of Taxidermia, Pálfi is definitely one to watch in the future so long as he doesn’t sacrifice maturity for attention-seeking visual provocation.