If a movie opens with a guy squirting fire from his penis, you know what to expect. And yet, you’re not prepared for what awaits. György Pálfi’s Taxidermia is a three-course meal of lust, gluttony, and pride. It spans over three generations of Balatony family- a lecherous soldier, an athlete in the sport of speed eating and a taxidermist. The only connecting link among them is their unhealthy obsessions. This Hungarian tragicomedy is full of sickeningly surreal vignettes, but even the most outlandish imagery is deeply rooted with reality, presenting Hungarian culture in a way never seen before on screen.
The first section of the movie raises some important questions, such as, ‘For what does a man’s dick stand erect?’, ‘Is there anything better than a woman’s cunt?’ Morosgoványi is an autoerotic orderly, stationed at some remote outpost during World War II. He caresses a lit candle and ejaculates flame. His sexual fantasies are vividly funny. He covetously ogles at Lieutenant’s plump wife. Driven by lust, he even copulates with the carcass of a pig. Morosgoványi is, in a way, critique on the helplessness of men, trapped in their own fantasies, and their inability to cope with it.
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For Pálfi, filmmaking is a very national affair, which is evident in his film Hukkle (2002). There is a mesmerizing scene in the movie that depicts the journey of a bathtub historically, the bittersweet moments it had lived, and the way it was utilized over generations. It is highly symbolic and poignant, an illustration of Hungary itself. All three stories in the film are set in different timelines- World War II era, Cold War era and in contemporary Hungary respectively. The film can also be classified as a socio-political drama, employing genealogy to show the history of Hungary from fascism to capitalism. All bodily traumas are a metaphor to National struggle.
Kálmán Balatony remains the prime focus of the film, supposedly the bastard child of Morosgoványi and lieutenant’s chubby wife. As a result, Kálmán is born with a pig tail. In his youth, he grows up to be an international champion in speed eating. Though the section and section of the movie are mostly about speed eating, it is multi-faceted. It is more political than it appears, subtly throwing light on Hungarian-soviet dynamic. Pálfi has cleverly overdrawn competitive eating like an Olympic level sport. Speed eating contests add an entertainment factor to otherwise a morbid movie. Nothing is more fascinating than watching athletes shoveling and gulping food barbarously and then vomiting in vast containers harmoniously.
Pálfi has portrayed the human body as a universe of flesh and blood. Kálmán Balatony is an allegory on the vastness of human body, a man with the capacity greater than himself, a man with the deep unknown chambers inside of him, adept to absorb almost anything that gets into his belly. Of course, the theme of extravagant gluttony is also prevalent in the midsection. As time progresses, Kálmán becomes prodigious and dysfunctional. His immobility turns him into a living monument.
The first two parts of Taxidermia are adapted from stories written by Hungarian writer Lajos Parti Nagy, while the final and defining chapter is co-written by Pálfi himself and his wife Zsofia Ruttkay. Lajoska Balatoni is the last descendant of Balatony family, a meek shabby gentleman who has mastered the art of Taxidermy. Despite their opposing views, he stands by his disgustingly bloated father, who looks down on him as a carcass stuffer. Lajoska neither seeks love, nor fame; he aims for something greater- immortality. The final act of Taxidermy is extremely grotesque, an extended sequence of Lajoska eviscerating his whole body, organ by organ, stuffing his own torso while he is still alive. When the body dissembles, the whole universe falls apart.
Taxidermia represents arthouse cinema in its vilest form. It is a feast of flesh; a grandfather who is drawn by flesh, a father who has adopted flesh and a son who discards flesh. Blood and semen flow lucidly in this feast of flesh. It is so nauseating that few vomiting techniques are suggested in the movie itself. Pálfi’s triptych of ultimate body horror is thoroughly disgusting, but if one is bold enough to float in this horrid space, there is nothing more exhilarating.
Bottom line: Taxidermia is a delicious film for those who can digest it.