I might have to retire the WTF Sunday strand after today’s film. It’s going to be very difficult to top this one for sheer, eye-popping insanity.
Mi a fasz volt ez?
The post-war history of Hungary is metaphorically retold through the grotesque lives and deaths of three generations of Hungarian men: an army officer’s orderly, a professional speed-eater and a taxidermist.
György Pálfi’s second feature is destined to be mentioned in the same breath as A Serbian Film. Both deal with similar themes and ambitions, but the results are separated by one key ingredient: Taxidermia is bloody hilarious. The blackest of black comedies, it is an absurdist trip down Hungary’s national Memory Lane. The opening scene sets the tone, with the eternally put-upon (and eternally randy) Morosgoványi in the shack he calls home, toying with his one source of light and heat – a stump of a candle. But Morosgoványi is a fantasist, and in his dreams he has a roaring flame, which happens to be bursting forth from his penis. Yes, you heard me. Two minutes into this film, one of the main characters is shooting fire from his dick.
From there it just gets even weirder. Morosgoványi is Hungary’s fascist period after the Nazi invasion in 1944, before the end of the war a year later and the rise of Communism, represented by his son, Kálmán. Kálmán’s later rise to champion in his chosen sport of speed-eating symbolises the country’s relative successes during the Communist heyday of the 60s and 70s leading to wealth and excess. This section of the film is the funniest and the sweetest, as Kálmán meets and courts the love of his life.
The final third of the movie centres on Kálmán’s son Lajos. Now an old man so obese that he can’t even leave his chair, Kálmán is living in the past. His wife – also a champion eater – has abandoned him, running away to coach the Americans. Kálmán depends on his son to bring him food and to care for his cats. Lajos is Hungary of the nineties, pale and drawn in comparison to his overfed forbears. Capitalism has now replaced Communism but all the wealth is leaving the country, just like Kálmán’s wife. Hungary doesn’t prosper, it exists in decline. The only thing it can do is to preserve itself and its history for others, represented not only by Lajos and his taxidermy, but by the overarching theme of the movie as a whole.
I’m reluctant to get too deep into recapping the plot, but it’s going to be tricky to discuss the film any further without verging in that direction. Suffice it to say that Taxidermia is one of those films that is truly unforgettable. Visually striking, it is not for the faint-hearted or the weak-stomached, but if you can hold down your gag reflex there is a lot to appreciate here. Pálfi and his fearless cast have told a story that is both hilarious and saddening in equal measure, with the metaphors layering and folding in on themselves to create a film that really makes you think about what you are seeing.
The sparse score by Brazilian electronic artist Amon Tobin and Gergely Pohárnok’s cinematography are both top notch, drawing you in to the story and revealing connections through various leitmotifs; a music cue here, a camera move there. The more I think about it, the more astonishing this movie is. Combining elements of horror, romance and history lesson into an enthralling whole, Taxidermia is a one of a kind.