Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Review: Taxidermia

Dir. György Pálfi
Year: 2006
Aus Rating: R18+
Running Time: 91mins

I watched the humourously revolting Taxidermia last night. You may know that title as one of the official selections of 2006's Cannes Film Festival and as Hungary's entry into the 2007 foreign language film category at the Academy Awards. I had heard plenty about it, about how it was not for a faint of heart and how it's one of the sickest movies ever made.

Well, I gotta ask - is it really that sick? Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of disgusting images in this film and the themes it explores are positively nauseating, but is watching a man fuck a pig really more vile than any of the images we get served yearly in horror films? Isn't it more sick to watch someone be stripped and murdered (and perhaps be asked to enjoy it) than it is to watch a man stuff an obese man's corpse with grass?

...okay, perhaps it is.

But I was still surprised how little I was revolted by György Pálfi's film. Taxidermia has three stories, all - I assume - adapted from the Lajos Parti Nagy short stories - that revolve around three generations of men. The first is an errand boy who is addicted to swallowing fire and eventually grows a flame-throwing penis. The next story is about his son who has a pig tail and grows up to become a competitive speed eater vying for the affection of an Olympic gold medalist speed eating woman. The third and final story is about his son who is a taxidermist who cares for his 600 pound father and his fat lard-eating cats.

Notice how casually I said all that? It's because the film takes itself so casually that it stops being revolting and shocking after a while and the disgusting acts it is showing become merely part of the scenery. It doesn't show you these people degrading themselves because it can, it does it because that's simply what they do. Make sense? Probably not.

The only parts where I actually felt quite sick was during the speed eating scenes of the second story. And even then it was only the copious amounts of CGI vomit that was irksome. The film's "centrepiece" - I guess you could call it that - is a scene in the final moments of the taxidermist son enacting his profession with deeply disturbing skill before the scene ends with one of the more genuinely shocking revelations I've seen in a long time. I can barely watch anything that involves medical work yet I was strangely transfixed.

Taxidermia is bloody and brutal, it doesn't shy away from showing the audience images that it knows will find sickening, but as I've said, it doesn't show these things merely to gross an audience out (well, maybe a little). I really think it is showing a story of these three people. Stories that just happen to involve bestiality, self-mutilation, murderous felines, embryo modelling, children with curly pig tails and a scene involving caviar that will make someone with the most seasoned food palate squirm in their seat at the sight of it.

That Palfi makes the film so watchable at all is, I think, a testiment to this surprisingly young director (he's 33, and this is only his second feature-length film). He has amassed a great technical team alongside him. The photography by Gergely Pohárnok somehow mananges to find a grimey beauty in the images. The editing by Réka Lemhényi is probably some of the very best of the year and Lemhényi should be snapped up quick smart by a director with more, how shall I put this? With more commercial possibilities. In fact the work by the cinematographer and editor work incredibly well together (surprisingly rare) and there is one sequence that involves a revolving bathtub that is fascinating to watch as the two medium merge into one. Adrienn Asztalos's art direction is also kookily fascinating, filling rooms with stripped paint, dead animals and all sorts of various fetishist images. There's no denying that Taxidermia looks like a Hollywood film gone down the Midnight Movie path. Discussing the performances however is generally on the pointless side, but of team of grotesques I thought Marc Birschoff was a standout and one worthy of future thought.

I wouldn't recommend Taxidermia to many people, but if the idea of watching a man have sex with a morbidly obese woman who then partway through turns into a dead pig carcus sounds like something that doesn't make you want to heave at the mere thought, then seek it out. You may just find outself being surprised, and in more ways than one I imagine. B

1 comment:

Simon A said...

I can stomach most horror movies but had a lot of trouble getting through Taxidermia. Weird!