Hungarian director György Pálfi made his debut at the age of twenty-eight in 2002 with Hukkle. That was a film with no spoken dialogue – subtitles are only needed for a couple of songs at the end – which in a lean hour-and-a-quarter running time gave a picture of a very strange village. The result is clearly a matter of taste, but its originality is not in doubt.
Made on a bigger budget as a French-Austrian-Hungarian coproduction, Pálfi’s follow-up, Taxidermia is more ambitious and accomplished…and just as likely to divide audiences. The BBFC content advice tells you that it contains “gory images, real sex and very strong language”. If that isn’t warning enough, be advised that the middle section’s centrepiece is a speed-eating contest which features enough vomiting to rival Python’s Mr Creosote or the Otto Muehl Commune in Sweet Movie. There’s also a scene involving a close encounter between a cock and a cock (two different types) which will make women laugh and men wince. But there is more to Taxidermia than a well-made series of gross-out gags. The film is in three sections, with each protagonist being the father of the next. Each of the three men is in the grip of some kind of obsession.
We begin during World War II, with medical orderly Vendel Morosgovány (Csaba Csene). Vendel is a hapless figure fixated on sex. At the beginning of the film he shows us his particular party piece by ejaculating a long flame from his penis. He wants to shag everyone with two X chromosomes in sight. Unfortunately for him, that includes his commander’s wife. The resultant child – once a pig’s tail has been removed – grows up to be Kálmán Balatony (Gergely Trócsányi), who in the 1960s becomes a champion speed-eater. This middle section allows Pálfi to indulge in some cynical jabs at the Communist era of Hungary’s recent past. Finally, we’re in the present, with Lajos, Kálmán’s son. Shy and retiring, he works as a taxidermist, so skilled as to be able to stuff an embryo. He shops in a supermarket, buying vast quantities of food for his father (now played by Gábor Máté), who is now super-morbidly obese and confined to the house. But Lajos dreams of one final, ultimate artwork…
There’s no doubting Pálfi’s skill as a director and his gift for a striking (if often nauseating) image. As he showed in Hukkle he’s commendably economical, packing more ideas into what are effectively three half-hour shorts than many would in a two-hour-plus feature. Taxidermia is certainly enjoyable, if you can take it, as a black comedy with some particularly gross highlights. But, given Lajos’s profession, it’s not inappropriate to say that it comes over as ever so slightly heartless.
Tartan’s release of Taxidermia is a dual-layered PAL disc encoded for Region 2 only.
Taxidermia was shot in Super 35 and released in Scope. The DVD transfer is in the intended ratio of 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced. Gergely Pohárnok’s camerawork goes for muted colours, especially in the opening section, and doesn’t avoid grain in some scenes. I didn’t see Taxidermia in a cinema, but I don’t have any reason to doubt that this looks the way it did there – quite acceptable but not stunning.
There are three soundtrack options: 5.1 mixes in Dolby Digital and DTS, plus analogue Dolby Surround (2.0). The film surrounds are used for Amon Tobin’s Eastern-flavoured score and for ambience, of which there his quite a lot. English subtitles are optional, but unless you are fluent in Hungarian you will certainly need them.
The only extra is the theatrical trailer, which is in anamorphic 2.35:1 and runs 2:11. The back of the case says that the disc includes “The Making of Taxidermia but that is not actually present.
The Hungarian DVD release of Hukkle is English-friendly and superior to the British release as it contains a DTS track. It could be had for under £3 (at the current pound-to-forint exchange rate) in Budapest shops when I was there in November 2007. Given that, some may prefer to wait to see what the Hungarians do with their DVD release of Taxidermia, when it appears, before buying Tartan’s virtually barebones DVD. Given that, Tartan’s disc is perfectly acceptable if all you want is to see the film.