Foreign Objects travels the world of international cinema each week to look for films worth visiting. So renew your passport, get your shots, and brush up on the local age of legal consent, this week we’re heading to…
If Terry Gilliam woke up one day in Eastern Europe, horny, hungry, and obsessed with death… only to find the half-consumed bodies of David Cronenberg and Jean-Pierre Jeunet sprawled across his floor, morsels of both men’s brains still stuck in his teeth… Taxidermia is the ninety-minute exploration of life, beauty, immortality, and bodily fluids he might rush to film before being arrested by the authorities. What does that mean exactly? I have no fucking clue.
Taxidermia follows three generations of males in one very messed up Hungarian family. Vendel is a hare-lipped and sex-starved soldier in World War II who lives and works on his Lieutenant’s farm. He’s treated like crap by his superior, and is only interested in satisfying his sexual appetite via masturbation and fantasy. His final evening is spent thrusting his pecker into the Lt.’s portly wife atop a freshly disemboweled pig carcass, and nine months later she gives birth to… Kalman is a champion speed-eater who gives it all for his country until he falls for the women’s champion speed-eater. His singular obsession becomes having a son to carry on his vomit-inducing career, so he marries her and soon she gives birth to… Lajos is a pale, gaunt taxidermist who spends his free time taking care of his incredibly obese father and the man’s giant competition cats. His efforts to charm a local sweetheart are rebuffed, and he takes solace in the only beauty he knows. Death is that final beauty, and with one final act Lajos will accomplish something his father and grandfather couldn’t.
First and foremost it has to be said that Taxidermia is not for the squeamish or folks turned off by the human body’s less appreciated features. A small sampling of the potentially disturbing images includes a pig being slaughtered and carved up, a large woman’s very hairy armpit dripping sweat onto a man’s face (which he proceeds to lick), cock on cock action when Vendel tries to screw a greased knothole in unwise proximity to a rooster, more vomit scenes than Stand By Me and Monty Python’s Meaning of Life had combined, a bulbous and inkblot-nippled breast sloshing against an infant’s face, an extreme and explicit close-up of balls meeting an unkempt vagina… again, just a sampling.
Just as plentiful though are the images of odd beauty. Vendel holds a flame to his disfigured lips, occasionally breathing it in across his tongue, and then shooting it from his erect kolbasz like a fleshy flame-thrower. A pop-up storybook of Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Little Match Girl” opens to reveal living people moving amongst the paper constructs. Perhaps the most impressive shot sees Vendel smelling the used bathwater of his Lt.’s two daughters, and as he breathes in their scent we see the tub’s olfactory history by way of a rotating camera shot that circles the tub several times. We see the girls bathing and splashing each other, a newborn baby sleeping, a dead soldier on funeral display, clothes being washed, bread dough being kneaded, and freshly carved pig entrails presumably drying out for jerky or some such thing.
“Sounds great!” you’re thinking, “but what’s it all about?” For that I refer you to the introductory paragraph above… I have no fucking clue. I do have some theories though. 1) It could be about the cycle of life. The first tale is about sex and conception, the second shows a life lived to questionable extremes, and the third concerns itself with unavoidable death. 2) It could also be about man’s quest for immortality. Vendel tries (perhaps subconsciously) to spread his seed thereby continuing his lineage, Kalman tries to live forever in the eyes of the public through championship accomplishments, and Lajos views taxidermy and subsequent display as an artistic afterlife. 3) It could be a commentary on Hungary’s governmental history. We move from the ironic fight for the freedom to live without true freedom, to life lived under Communism where that life is for the good of the country and not the individual, to an indictment of capitalism and the freedom it brings to live in excess without purpose or joy. 4) None of the above. Maybe Palfi just really enjoys the biology of the human body and wants to share it in all it’s corpulent, wet, sticky, and messy glory.
Is Taxidermia one of the more disgusting movies I’ve ever seen? Probably. Others have been far more offensive and disturbing to be sure, but few can compete with this movie when it comes to the degree of pure foulness on screen. But aside from imagery both imaginative and unappealing, the movie has little to offer. It’s slow, has characters that you never grow attached to or care about, and meanders forward with little interest in telling a coherent story. Instead it’s purely a sensory experience, a journey through the human body’s most revolting aspects, and it pulls no punches in trying to show a reality that most films go out of their way to avoid. It’s the ‘why’ behind it all that isn’t entirely clear.
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