The family saga is a well-established literary and cinematic tradition ranging from "Roots" to "The Godfather" to "How the West Was Won." Much rarer in this grand tradition, however, is the family saga that features a patriarch who masturbates in fiery plumes or his descendants who vomit for a living and perform self-vivisections. "Taxidermia" has finally filled that glaring void.
Hungarian director György Palfi established himself as a procurer of the grotesque with his 2002 debut feature "Hukkle" but he one-upchucks himself in grand fashion with "Taxidermia" (2006.) The film begins with a dim-witted pervert named Morosgovanyi (Csaba Czene), a Woyzeck-esque soldier who is used and abused by his superiors – which is to say by everybody. His only means of rebellion is to stick his dick into everything he can find: a tub of ice water, the wall of a shed, and eventually into either his lieutenant's wife or possibly a dead sow. It's difficult to tell the difference.
The product of this final liaison is pig-tailed Kalman (Gergo Trocsanyi), an athlete aspiring to the highest tiers of his profession – professional eating. Kalman, much like the swine who is at least spiritually, if not literally, his mother, spends most of his time at a trough, slurping down gelatinous food then vomiting it back up in a communal purge in order to clear room for more. Eventually Kalman achieves a great honor that he can brag about on his deathbed: he has a technique of regurgitation named after him.
His son Lajos (Mark Bischoff) doesn't appear to have inherited any of the family genes. Thin and pallid, he would be at home in the cabinet of Dr. Caligari, but he balances his time from managing his taxidermy business to tending to his now Jabba-the-Hut-esque father whose only remaining goal in life is to train his cats to eat everything in sight. Pleasantries follow.
The gluttonous middle section of the film is by far its most successful. At times it's downright brilliant. Kalman's competitive gorging is accompanied by the Communist pageantry associated with the grandest athletic spectacles: majestic banners, approving military brass, pennant-waving children, songs, and television coverage. He is tended to by an army of trainers who have reduced binging and purging to a science: "Only a little lubricant, enough for three regurgitations!" Though intended as satire, the actors play the scenes with the urgency of any Hollywood sports film. And why not? Hungary's national pride is directly dependent on Kalman's ability to shovel as much gruel down his gullet as possible. Naturally, this is also the perfect occasion for a love story as Kalman seeks to woo the lovely Gizi (Adel Stanczel), the women's eating champion.
Perhaps the most perverse aspect of this second segment is the beauty with which Palfi films the grotesque. His 360 degree pan of the eaters at the vomit trough is rather majestic, dignified even, and this contrast between form and content is where the film generates most of its dark humor, a trick mastered by Frank Zappa who would accompany exquisite classical arrangements with lyrics about Enema Bandits.
Leo Tolstoy once wrote that "Nationalism and patriotism are sins, sins against humanity and the human spirit" and Palfi brings that message home every time his actors open the sluices. For Palfi, there's no real difference between channeling an entire nation's energy into putting the first man in space or into producing the man who can eat the most horse sausage in ten minutes.
The opening section has its moments of visual derring-do (the aforementioned flaming penis being the most memorable) but the final section strives for an aesthetic rigor(mortis) that it doesn't achieve. Perhaps it's just too difficult to follow up forty minutes of vomit, but the eviscerations and decapitations of the third act feel like the most self-conscious attempts at provocation in the whole film, and they don't pack much of a punch. Bischoff is creepy enough to star in a David Lynch film one day, but the film ends on a flat note.
Still, when "Taxidermia" scores, it scores big, and the middle section alone is enough to make worthy of a recommendation even if it doesn't quite live up to its gruesome reputation.
The film is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. Unfortunately the interlaced transfer leaves a lot to be desired. Perhaps it's appropriate for this film to be draped in a sickly greenish hue, but the questionable color palette suggests this might have been taken directly from a PAL source. Reds are particularly dull which is problematic in the more elaborate competitive eating segments that are decked out in Communist finery. It's not so bad that it's a detriment to enjoying the film – the image resolution is generally solid – but it could be a lot better.
The DVD is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1. Optional English subtitles support the Hungarian audio.
The DVD includes a "Making Of" Featurette (42 min.) and a Theatrical Trailer.
"Taxidermia." It's like "The Thorn Birds" except with thirty percent more vomit. Oddly, however, it's not nearly as nauseating.
Amazingly, the Hungarian Film Board (or whoever makes the decisions) had the temerity to submit "Taxidermia" as Hungary's official nomination for the Academy Award in 2007. I can only imagine the reactions of the timid, easily confused voters. What a great documentary that would have made, a perfect companion piece to all the "2 Girls, 1 Cup" reaction videos on YouTube. "Taxidermia" may not be Oscar material, but it's worth your time if you've got a hearty constitution and particularly if you have in interest in bodily functions of all kinds.