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Gyorgy Palfi's Taxidermia tells the stories of three generations of Hungarian men (one a sexually frustrated, low-life, peeping-tom soldier, his son who is an obese Communist champion speed eater, and the grandson, a twisted taxidermist who is trying to invent a machine so he can embalm himself) while at the same time satirically mocking Hungary's struggles as it passes from imperial servitude, through Soviet authority, to independent lethargy.
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The soundtrack (by Amon Tobin) is another matter entirely: excellent!
Much has been made of the weird factor in Gyorgy Palfi's Taxidermia; I'm not sure whether it says more about the film or about me that I didn't see anything terribly out of the ordinary until the last ten minutes or so. There certainly wasn't anything weirder than one might find in an average John Waters movie until then. So why all the hate-on for what is, when it comes right down to it, a clever and well-crafted family drama, what might happen were, say, Dusan Makavejev to team up with Alexander Mackendrick to film a version of Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel, except about the lower-rent portions of society? (And yes, those who have been following my review for a very long time will know the accord I give all three of those artists, and yes, I'm placing Palfi in the same stratum.) Given my lack of weirdness-perception, the question then becomes, is it a good movie for someone who doesn't recognize the weird? Go back and reread the sentence before the question, and I think you'll already know where I stand on the issue. But my job is to review things, not just tell you how great they are. So I must keep typing, and you, dear reader, must keep reading.
Taxidermia tells the story of three generations of a dysfunctional Hungarian family. Grandfather, whose name is Vendel Morosgovanyi (Csaba Czene), is a low-ranking soldier during World War II who likes spying on the camp women when they bathe. This leads--though not at all in the natural way--to the birth of a son, Kalman Balatony (Gergely Trocsanyi), who, thanks to his upbringing, becomes a competitive eater in the seventies. He, in turn, marries the female competitive eating champion and the two of them have a son, Oreg (Gabor Mate), a taxidermist in contemporary Hungary. Needless to say I'm skipping over the details; the spoilerific nature of the film has little to do with its plot and everything to do with the details of the lives of these three men and those around them.
Not that there's actually much to spoil here. This isn't a movie whose story lends itself to a great deal of suspense; it is spectacle, in the grand meaning of that term. It shows us what we already know. (For some reason, from here I want to draw a comparison to Cecil B. DeMille's biblical epics. I am resisting the temptation.) It does so in notable, and somewhat extreme ways; while I'm not willing to go as far as weird (and certainly not as far as shocking), these aren't images one sees on film all that often. (And yet there is very little here one didn't see in Bela Tarr's Satantango, which is probably also a telling comparison, at least as to how my head works.) If you're going into it without really knowing much about the imagery, then I should probably caution you that the movie does contain some things, simulated or no, which some folks might find offensive, including animal slaughter, male full frontal nudity, and the consumption of forty-five kilos of red caviar in twenty minutes. I leave it to the prospective viewer to decide which of those is more offensive (and I've left out a choice item or two to prevent this review from being redlined). Still, I recommend the movie unreservedly, given that it manages to combine a slow pace and a gripping narrative, something that very few films are able to do successfully. I believe Palfi has a bright future in the film industry. (Someone in Hungary obviously agrees with me, as Taxidermia was Hungary's entry in the 2008 Best Foreign Film category at the Academy Awards, and deservedly so.) ****