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Movie Review: Taxidermia

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A few years ago I discovered the 2002 movie Hukkle, which was the first feature-length film from Hungarian director Gyorgy Palfi. I was enchanted by this virtually dialog-free film which relied mainly on ambient sound and largely on the recurrent noise of hiccups. Set in an idyllic farming community, the viewer gradually becomes aware of nasty doings behind the simple facade, with one or more murderers at large. It is a film that encourages repeat viewings, if only to get a better grip on the underlying sense of unease.

When I learned that Palfi's sophomore feature Taxidermia was showing at the London Film Festival, I immediately booked tickets. However I was in no way prepared for the body horror on display. The opening sequence sets the pace for what follows. Someone is toying with a candle flame, exploring the heat next to different parts of his body — his chest, his arm, his mouth. When the camera pulls back, we see him lying flat on his back with the flame shooting upwards from his erect penis. That's not something you see every day, nor was the rest of the film.

The film focuses on three generations of men in three periods of recent Hungarian history. It opens on a lowly army orderly stationed at a bleak outpost to look after his commanding officer, his wife, and daughters. Vendel is an ugly and forlorn soul with a harelip, played by Csaba Czene. When he is not fetching and carrying for his martinet master, he spies on the girls in their bath and indulges in more and more outrageous mastrubatory fantasies — some funny, some poetic. When he finally lays his superior's wife, he gets his head blown off for his effrontery. However when a babe is born with a pig's tail, the child is accepted as one of the family, once the offending appendage is hacked off.

Fast forward to the height of the communist era to the grown child, Kalman. He is now a hefty chap played by Gergely Trocsanyi and a competitive speed-eater, coached by his "father". We are not talking here of little Japanese ladies who can consume 30 hotdogs in 15 minutes, but of huge, fleshy men who attack troughs of slop and who wish that their sport could receive Olympic recognition. The hard part to watch is what happens between "courses" in these eating competitions, when the contestants withdraw to copiously regurgitate what they have just stuffed into their guts, before starting all over again.

Kalman is in love with an equally obese female champion eater. Eventually they marry, but at the wedding feast she is roundly rogered by one of her husband's cohorts. Nonetheless the newlyweds go off on their jolly honeymoon. When Kalman discovers that she is pregnant, he is overjoyed even if the viewer realises that the child, like the previous generation's, will not be his own. Still the pair frolic merrily and even resume their competitive eating until the child is born. They just can not understand, however, why he is so small and sickly.

That child grows up in modern Hungary to become a taxidermist. A slim nonentity played by Marc Bischoff, Lajoska lives to stuff animals, rather than stuffing his genitals or his stomach. His mother has departed the scene, but his father, whom he looks after, is now an obscene mountain of flesh, stranded in his oversized chair, training gigantic scary housecats to eat competitively. When the father and son argue, Lajoska storms out, leaving his nasty dad at the mercy of the cats with pretty graphic results.

Believing that he must make his own footnote in history, the son decides to produce the ultimate work of the taxidermist's art by literally stuffing himself while alive by the same methods that he uses on dead animals. I will omit the gory details on show before he achieves his desired end, so do try to repress your own imaginations here.

The movie closes at an art exhibition in a Hungary to come, where the crowd can admire the metamorphosed father and son on display. Creepy!

The film is still playing the festival circuit and is not yet available on DVD. When it does come out in that format, I can forsee major censorship problems and restricted ratings. However, assuming it survives with its highly original vision intact, I am sure it will find its own audience. Mind you, they will need a strong taste for the bizarre and cast-iron stomachs.

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