Be warned: Taxidermia isn’t a film; it’s sensory GBH. Ostensibly the story of three generations of Hungarian men – a First World War soldier, a champion speed-eater and a pallid taxidermist – in reality this loose structure is an excuse for Hungarian director György Pálfi to indulge the sickest synapses of his evil mind.
Taxidermia shuffles from horror to horror like a reanimated corpse. Witness the miserable wretch Morosgoványi (Csaba Czene) spying on his Lieutenant’s family while furiously masturbating. He dreams of fire shooting from his penis and his sperm speckling the stars like flecks of diamond. Which is fitting because Morosgoványi is a 24-carat mentalist who deals with the loss of his only friend, a pig, by violently sodomising its carcass.
Throughout these episodes, it’s impossible not to admire Pálfi’s sly humour and slick moves. There’s a delightful pan into the pages of a book, only for Morosgoványi to emerge onto the streets. It’d be a lovely moment if only it didn’t look suspiciously like it was all going to end in under-age rape.
If nothing else, Taxidermia keeps you on your toes. In the second chapter oceans of greasy vomit puddle the floor in an unwelcome introduction to communist speed-eating. But this is just the prelude to the film’s final fling. Put it this way: unless you’ve seen a taxidermist extract his own organs and turn himself into a human sculpture, well, you’ve just not really lived, have you?
While these are squalid, unlovely images, it’s hard not to be impressed as well as disturbed. The period detail is finely tuned, but Pálfi also has a great eye for exaggeration and when to push the darkly comic or the out-and-out grotesque. However, after grabbing your attention, it eventually dawns on you that the film doesn’t have a lot to say beyond its shock value. And as the last shot drifts into a dead, dark navel, you sort of suspect Pálfi knows that too.
Nobody does madness like those Central Europeans, but Pálfi is a virtual unknown.
If ever there was a film to be ‘admired’ rather than ‘enjoyed’, this is it.
With this kind of imagery, you’ll need to drag it kicking and screaming from your mind.