Based on a series of glowing reviews for Hungarian director György Pálfi's film Taxidermia, I ordered 3 copies for the FBW a month or so ago. I'd seen, and very much liked, his 2002 debut Hukkle, an engagingly bizarre tale of life and death in a small village. Packed with interesting, off-kilter visuals and bold style, this decidedly-experimental art house film worked as a strange amalgam of a Coen Brothers murder mystery by way of Stan Laurel and Microcosmos.
After such a unique and promising first film, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Pálfi's followup Taxidermia - but it certainly wasn't this. I'd read that it contained some disturbing imagery and told the story of three generations of Hungarian men: Vendel, a soldier during World War II; his son Kálmán, a competitive eater during the Cold War period; and Kálmán's son Lajos, a taxidermist living in the current day. To say that Taxidermia contains “some disturbing images” is a little like suggesting you shouldn't swim in (or gargle with) raw sewage. It is far and away the most disturbing and gruesome movie I've ever seen. It's ranks in the upper half of Reed's top 100 grossest film list – so that tells you all you need to know. Weak stomachs = stay clear.
The trouble is, Taxidermia is also extremely well done, which brings me to a bit of a conundrum as to how to review it. The line that separates art from exploitation is an entirely subjective one and everyone's definition of what constitutes a work of art varies. An extreme work like Taxidermia is meant to challenge that definition, but does that justify it? The problem with this film is it pushes the boundaries so far that any frame of reference or benchmark you can conjure up doesn't help put the film in any context. It takes David Cronenberg's body-horror-motif and then multiplies it by 1,000, grafting it onto some Pythonesque Mr. Creosote-era black comedy, so you don't just get up and turn it off after about about 5 minutes of flaming penis candle sex. It's graphic anatomical horror imagery is simply beyond the pale and what's left is a concentrated 90 minute assault on the senses. Pálfi obsesses with body parts, organs, vomit, meat, eviscerations, disembowelments, and the wraps it up with an spectacle of self-mutilation/ taxidermy that I wish I'd never seen.
And now the upsides. There aren't any.....but that isn't to say that this film doesn't have its fair share of bona fide cinematic qualities. The direction, acting and cinematography, for example, are all stellar. What I think it lacks is a reason to exist, for lack of a better way to say it. The experience of watching Taxidermia is simply a revolting endurance test, and while the darkly-comic Eastern European undertones of the plot help mitigate the endlessly sickening visuals, I was left wondering what I could possibly take away from it. At the risk of understating the filmmaker's obvious (and perhaps even successful, although I didn't give a shit) attempts to tell a deeply-allegorical story about life in miserable post-war Hungary, the only reason I can think of to endure this film is to redefine a new absolute outer limit of where a filmmaker can take the form and to say that you've seen it.
And that simply wasn't enough. Beyond delineating a new wincing, yuck-factor extreme and upping the ante from films like Peter Greenaway's The Cook, the Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover (1989), in spite of its singular and unforgettable style, Taxidermia is simply too grotesque to watch. It's been hyper-inflated by a goodly number of film critics who seem to want to be on the other side of the “art film” divide from the typical film fan. If you've ever seen a Sandra Bullock film and/or think George Clooney is the best actor working today, don't even touch the Taxidermia DVD case. It will likely ruin everything you've meticulously built your modern hipster existence upon and turn you into a drooling vegetable, rocking on a chair and muttering utter nonsense to no one in particular.
And then who'll walk the dogs and get coffees from Cherry Bomb?