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The body extreme
A UK region 2 DVD review of TAXIDERMIA by Slarek
 

Here's a warning. If you're someone who switches channels when they hear that the following programme contains strong language and scenes that some may find offensive, then take my advice and don't, whatever you do, buy or rent Taxidermia. Believe me when I assure you that if you're upset by actors getting naked or fruity with their language or a bit nasty with the violence then you are definitely not ready for what's on offer here. As someone who has no problem with any of this and delights in seeing taboos busted, I'm not sure even I was ready for it. But then I went in cold, aware only that it had severely divided fans of director György Pálfi's first feature Hukkle, many of whom were somewhat dismayed at the direction he had taken with his follow-up film. I haven't seen Hukkle and knew little of Taxidermia when the disc landed on my doormat. This can be a good way to approach many films if you are able, but can be a little dangerous with cinema of the extreme. Unless you're prepared for anything.

Taxidermia is a tale made up of three acts that focus on three generations of males of the same bloodline. It kicks off in WW2 Hungary with put-upon, hair-lipped army orderly Morosgoványi Vendel, who is stationed at the isolated house of his commanding officer, where temptation in the shape of the officer's two comely daughters results in varied and frequent masturbation on Vendel's part. He's been warned of the consequences of spying on the girls and they think he's creepy anyway, but the surly commander omitted to mention his portly, sex-starved wife Irma, in whom Vendel plants his seed. The result is Kálmán, who in young adulthood grows in every direction to become a contestant in international eating contests, where he just keeps missing out on the top prize. His marriage to fellow food athlete Aczél Gizi produces a son, Lajoska, who develops into a thin and weasel-like adult and whose work as a taxidermist is interrupted only to take care of his now corpulent father and his oversized cats.

Now if the above plot summary leaves you wondering what the fuss is about and convinced this will be an easy ride, here are a few sequences you should be aware of:

  • A real pig is killed, cooked on a bonfire and chopped up for eating;

  • The sex between Vendel and Irma is explicit and takes place on the open pig's carcass;

  • The masturbation is also explicit and the use of a greased hole in a shed wall as a masturbatory aid results in Vendel's penis being pecked by a rooster;

  • Vendel's fondness for ingesting candle flames results in an ability to ejaculate fire, which is also explicitly demonstrated;

  • Vendel has paedophiliac fantasies inspired by Hans Christian Anderson's The Little Match Girl that causes him to orgasm so hard that his ejaculate shoots off into the cosmos;

  • Baby Kálmán is born with a pig's tale that his disgusted father cuts off in close-up with pincers.

I should point out that this lot are are all from the first story, and I haven't included what Vendel's commander dourly claims makes the world go round. If you get through this then you just might be ready for the mass vomiting that follows each round of the eating competition and its practice sessions, the huge close-up of a pigeon's anus as it ejects waste onto the pavement, and the skinning of a gorilla's corpse in preparation for its everlasting preservation. Even then you'll probably be ill prepared for the special job Lajoska does for one customer, or the extraordinary finale in which he... no, I'm not going to give that one away.

Such content is likely to severely narrow the film's potential audience, and even they will likely be further divided by the question of whether Taxidermia inventively explores man's baser instincts or gleefully revels in them. There are certainly times when you can't help suspecting that Pálfi is deliberately playing the provocateur, but he does so in the manner and tradition of surrealist cinema of years past, whose shock tactic lineage runs back to 1928 and the eye slicing in Buñuel and Dali's Un Chien Andalou. There's certainly more to Taxidermia than its ability to offend audience sensibilities, and more to argue about.

Accusation #2 has charged that Pálfi holds his characters in contempt, a middle class disgust at the excesses of the proletariat, who are presented as physically unattractive people with creepy habits, unpleasant personalities, and unattainable dreams. Of the three generations, only Kálmán gets the girl he desires, and that's only after his friend and fellow eating champion Béla has had his way with her. The fantasy/reality editing of Vendel's encounter with Irma, meanwhile, makes it uncertain whether this actually happened at all, her pregnancy perhaps the result of supernatural forces rather than actual intercourse. But there's a degree of delight to every disgusting moment and a narrative alignment with the characters and their destinies that creates a peculiar bond of empathy – you find yourself genuinely concerned for the risks Vendel takes in pursuit of masturbatory pleasure, for the wellbeing of Gizi when a demonstration of her ingestive skills puts her pregnancy at risk, and for the desperate measures Lajoska is prepared to go to in order to make his mark on a world that values his work more than it does its creator.

Despite its extreme content, Taxidermia is not an exploitation film, something evident in the inventive care with which individual sequences are handled, from the extraordinary sideways rotating camera move that provides a compressed history of the uses to which a wooden bath has been put, to the pop-up storybook that seamlessly transforms into a set with costumed actors, and the sleight-of-hand effects work that enlarges Kálmán's cats to just beyond what could possibly be right for such animals. There's a darkly infectious energy and wit at work here in all aspects of the production, with performances that confidently walk a fine line between naturalism and the grotesque, historical detail that parodies without tumbling into outright mockery (the organised Communist era rah-rah at the eating contest is particularly well done), and special effects that take a surrealistic gag that bit further than you'd have thought anyone would dare (the aforementioned space-bound ejaculation made me laugh out loud). The structure clearly has purpose, in the changing fortunes of the generations, in the relationship between father figure and son and the expectations of one for the other, in the connection of meat and flesh – it's just not always clear Pálfi is trying to tell us, if anything.

But if you're looking for something outside of the mainstream norm then Taxidermia should be at the top of your list, although you'll need a strong stomach and an open mind if you're going to stay with it until the memorable ending. Whether, as some have suggested, Pálfi really is cynical about the human race or is just having fun with the idea of such cynicism is hard to say, and it probably doesn't matter. Taxidermia is demented, twisted and inspired fun for the tolerant, an experience quite unlike any other at the moment and one film that we can be sure is not going to be the victim of a Hollywood remake any time soon.

sound and vision

A fine anamorphic 2.35:1 transfer copes well with a range of traditionally tricky lighting situations, including mist, dim interiors and candlelight, without losing detail or the solidity of black levels. Colour and contrast are very good and there is no evidence of obvious edge enhancement. Gergely Pohárnok's cinematography is consistently impressive and the transfer here does it justice.

The usual Tartan trio of Dolby stereo 2.0, Dolby 5.1 surround and DTS 5.1 surround are on offer, with the surround tracks winning hands down on ambience and atmosphere, although tonal range and clarity are very good on all three. The DTS track is noticeably louder than the 5.1 and occasionally a little shrill, otherwise there's little to choose between them.

extra features

Trailer (2:11)
The original Hungarian trailer, with optional English subtitles.

summary

Look the film up and the word you'll see most used is 'disgusting', even in the positive reviews, but if that doesn't put you off you could just be in for a twisted treat. No film is going to be everyone's cup of tea but that goes treble for Taxidermia. Heed the warnings before you take this ride, but if you're up to it then it's definitely a ride worth taking. Tartan have really skimped on the extras, but have delivered on the picture and sound, and that's where it counts.

Taxidermia

Hungary / Austria / France 2006
91 mins
director
György Pálfi
starring
Csaba Czene
Gergely Trócsányi
Piroska Molnár
Adél Stanczel
Marc Bischoff
Gábor Máté

DVD details
region 2
video
2.35:1 anamorphic
sound
Dolby 2.0 stereo
Dolby 5.1 surround
DTS 5.1 surround
languages
Hungarian
subtitles .
English
extras
Trailer
distributor
Tartan
release date
13 August 2007
review posted
13 August 2007

See all of Slarek's reviews