“Taxidermia” is obsessed with human flesh. From its opening minutes onward, this Hungarian/French/Austrian production barely takes notice of a landscape or even the layout of an enclosed room, but prefers extreme close-ups. The film dives into the human body to investigate it parts, inside and out, even at their less appealing moments. And I’m not talking about the choice physiques of Eastern European models: “Taxidermia” zeroes in on the most revolting bodies.
Yes, it’s as disgusting as it sounds. But “Taxidermia,” directed by György Pálfi and co-written by Pálfi and Zsófia Ruttkay, works these grotesque images into a bizarre tale about the hell of menial existence and the doom we inherit from our predecessors. As the film unwinds, the scenarios seem out to break down the complacency of the most resolute viewer. But with a wealth of dead-on black humor and a brilliant climax, these grotesqueries develop into a delightfully bizarre vision.
The film opens with a pathetic soul, Morogorvski (Czene Csaba), an army orderly who slips into fantasy whenever he can avoid his menial duties and his cruel Lieutenant. He spends his days getting abused, then releasing his stress through perverse masturbation (don’t ask; seeing is believing here) and spying on bathing young ladies. In a winter cap and tattered coat (he’s quartered in a shed while those he serves sleep comfortably), Morogorvski acts like a Samuel Beckett character with hardly any emotions left or a capacity to communicate them. His scenes are often played alone, where he appears to be a subhuman being investigating another race. He never gets so much as a kind word from those he serves, until a not-so-lovely matron comes to him for some pleasure. This act creates the next generation (and next chapter of the film), but like the rest of Morogorvski’s plights, it never suffers from a lack of humor. (He even suffers an animal attack during “gloryhole” masturbation.)
The second act focuses on Morogorvski’s son, Kálmán (Gergely Trócsányi). An oversized champion speed-eater, he will test viewers’ stomachs as we watch what he ingests and how he rids himself of it (what pint-sized jockeys call “flipping”). There’s plenty of eating and expelling, but the quirky folks already enjoying “Taxidermia” will find a humorous approach to it all. His romance with another speed-eater engenders Lajos (Marc Bischoff), who grows to become a gaunt taxidermist and the source of his father’s shame. He is overburdened with caring for his aged father, who has more than compensated for his son’s thinness by overstuffing himself to the surreal size of a tractor tire.
Kálmán is now stabilized in what looks like a cross between a jail cell and a museum display, where he gorges on chocolates all day. Fixated on his glory days of speed-eating, he pleasures in feeding oversized kitties and rants about current eating champions on TV. His servant, however, becomes the heir to his grandfather’s misery, with a passion in his work but a stifled existence. He has an artist’s concentration while working on animal carcasses, though viewers should be warned that one assignment is quite challenging to view. But as he wanders through the more normal environs of a supermarket (to buy tonnage of consumables for his ghastly dad), the film dwells in his Kafkaesque sorrow, and reminds us that hell can be the everyday for some, all depending on what unavoidable situation one has been dealt.
His final resolve makes this film very worthy of its title – this event manages to top “Taxidermia’s” most bizarre moments and, in its illustration of character motivation, delivers the film into a sublime realm. “Taxidermia” is only for fans of the bizarre and certainly not for those with even a faintly weak stomach. But for those meeting both qualifications: Welcome to a devious little nightmare.