Reviewed by: Anton Bitel

When we first see hare-lipped Vendel Morosgoványi (Csaba Szene) in György Pálfi's Taxidermia, he is literally on fire, masturbating with the aid of a candle and ejaculating a stream of flame, as this lowly orderly, lodged in a barnyard at a rural outpost in Second World War Hungary, fails altogether to rein in his bestial desires for the wife and two daughters of his commanding officer.

In what follows, Vendel will have his tumescent pecker pecked by a rather different kind of cock, his erotic fantasies will extend even to Hans Christian Andersen's fairytale Little Match Girl, and both his ardour and his life will be brought to an abrupt finish after he engages in illicit intercourse with either a butchered pig, or his commander's porky wife, or both. Here events unfold in a no-man's-land between fantasy and reality, and even if Vendel's final, fleshy act of congress may seem to take place merely within the walls of his (soon to be shattered) skull, still the woman does subsequently give birth to a baby with a pig's tail attached…

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Such a monstrously hybrid offspring recalls the conclusion to Gabriel García Marquez's One Hundred Years Of Solitude, and while Pálfi's second feature (after Hukkle) is in fact adapted from two stories by Lajos Parti Nagy, it shares Marquez's interests in chronicling, carnality and magical realism. Vendel's tale turns out to be only the first of three episodes spanning three generations of Hungarian history. Vendel's 'son' Kálmán (Gergõ Trócsány), though docked of his porcine tail at birth, still grows up to be something of a pig - or, more accurately, a pot-bellied speed-eater in the Soviet competitive circuit. Between bouts of voluminous gorging and profuse regurgitation, his love for both food and female champion Gizella (Adél Stanczel) will be challenged by rival Béla (Zoltán Koppány).

Cut to the present day, and the now immobile Kálmán (played by a fat-suited Gábor Máté) is looked after, along with a trio of unnaturally fattened competition cats, by his son, the wraith-like taxidermist Lajoska (Marc Bischoff). Yet after a freak accident, Lajoska decides to preserve his family from its legacy of rot in a final, fatal act of self-modification that will be the culmination of his chosen art.

Even if it is never clear whether any of Pálfi's three main characters are actually related by blood, they are certainly intimately connected in other ways - each frustrated in his appetites, defeated by his fortune and thoroughly exploited by others. For although Taxidermia is set in three contrasting periods - the fascism of the war, the communism of the Sixties, and the free market of today - Pálfi paints a picture of an eternally hungry Hungary where the more things change, the more they stay the same.

As obsessed as the profession to which its title refers with matters of the flesh, Taxidermia endlessly parades semen, vomit, sweat, urine and blood, in a darkly comic variant on body horror that marries the sensibilities of David Cronenberg to those of Emir Kusturica. Yet if the imagery is always grotesque, and if the characters are always reduced to their basest drives, Pálfi presents his carnivalesque concerns in an artfully aestheticised package that belies the ugliness within. Shot in sumptuous anamorphic widescreen, with painterly mise-en-scène and the subtlest of CG effects to aid the camera's fluid movements through time and space, Taxidermia always compels us to stare wide-eyed at the screen in awe as much as disgust.

Too singular to fall into any comfortable generic category, this chunky brew of family saga, cultural history, deformed anatomy and perverted bestiary will leave its viewers either throwing up in the aisles, or hungry for more.

Reviewed on: 19 Aug 2007
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Three generations of grotesque goings on in Hungary.
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Amber Wilkinson **1/2

Director: György Pálfi

Writer: György Pálfi, Lajos Parti Nagy, Zsófia Ruttkay

Starring: Csaba Czene, Gergely Trócsányi, Piroska Molnár, Adél Stanczel, Marc Bischoff, Gábor Máté, Zoltán Koppány, Géza D. Hegedüs, Erwin Leder, Géza Balkay, Attila Balogh

Year: 2006

Runtime: 91 minutes

Country: Hungary, Austria, France

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