What is this and why should you care?  There aren’t a lot of films which can pierce the desensitized, cynical soul of an internet veteran.  This is where we look at those things.

In 2006, director Gyorgy Palfi released a film which is said to be a metaphorical retelling of the post World War 2 history of Hungary.  Hungary’s had some pretty dark times in the 20th century, from joining the Axis in World War 2, 50ish years of communism after the end of the war, a couple of violent revolutions and finally desperate poverty as a result of absurd socio-economic planning through the 90s.  Things are looking up for Hungary after joining the EU in 2004, but like many Eastern European countries if you’re looking for generations of men and women hardened by povery, violence and chaos you’re looking in the right direction.

In short, the perfect stage for artistic, metaphorical film!  We’re going to dive in, but I must caution gentle readers that the film is sexual, graphic, violent, masochistic and absurd.  If the idea of seeing graphic dissections, projectile vomiting, and sex with dissected corpses at all distresses you I urge you to not continue reading.  Perhaps a visit to reddit.com/r/aww would help?

Yes.  Yes it would.  For the rest of us…

 

 

 

Taxidermia covers three generations of men in post World War 2 Hungary.  Men stricken by sexual deviance, disconnection from reality, physical deformity, and self-abuse.  Each time we think we’ve gone too deep, we go deeper.  Like Inception, but with meat.  Before we go in, I must apologize for the low resolution of the screenshots.  It happens.

 

 

Part 1:  Morosgovanyi

 

Dude loves his fire

 

Morosgovanyi is a sexually repressed soldier, serving the needs of a Lieutenant and his family.  He’s forced to sleep in a filthy shed beside the Lieutenant’s home, where the Lieutenant’s nubile daughters and corpulent wife live in luxury.  He performs all of the painful, menial tasks required by the household, like chopping wood, cleaning floors, helping with meals and such, like a pedophiliac pyromaniac Cinderella.  He masturbates and fantasizes frequently, often with a lit candle.  He sucks at the fire and drips the wax on himself.  The Lieutenant abuses Morosgovanyi by forcing him to adhere to extensive rules and procedure, the most important of them being “no peeping.”

 

No peeping

 

While peeping on the daughters frolicking in the snow, he masturbates through a greased up hole in some wooden boards where his penis is pecked by a rooster.  Morosgovanyi loses himself in fantasy.  He fantasies about Hans Christian Anderson’s “Little Matchstick Girl,” fantasies about the daughters, about fire, and about the wife.  As the section goes on we lose the ability to tell whether or not things happening to Morosgovanyi are really happening, until the climax where his best friend (a pig) is slaughtered.  We’re treated to extreme close ups of the insides of the pig, the daughters playing with pig parts, piles of pig intestines, and then the family enjoying a feast while Morosgovanyi is left to guard the carcass overnight.  He fantasizes (or does he) that he is having sex with the wife and daughters, and is caught by the Lieutenant pants down and deep inside the slaughtered remains of the pig.

 

Are we turned on yet?

 

The Lieutenant shoots Morosgovanyi in the head.  Then the wife gives birth to a baby with a tail, and the Lieutenant cuts of the tail with shears and names the baby Kalman.

I think I actually get this part of the film.  See, the Lieutenant is like Germany, and Morosgovanyi is Hungary.  In WW2 Hungary was just about a vassal state of Germany, commanded, used, and then abandoned when the need arose.  Hungary never got to share in whatever prosperity the Axis had to offer, they only got to see the riches without ever touching.  The ambiguity surrounding the birth of Kalman is key here.  We don’t know if he’s the Lieutenant’s or Morosgovanyi’s child.

 

 

Part 2:  Kalman

 

Kalman is a champion eater.  Throughout this segment of the film, eating competitions are treated like the most important thing in the country.  Huge crowds cheer on the champion eaters, nations compete, youth attend training camps where they eat to capacity and then regurgitate endlessly.

 

You’re the best… around

 

Kalman is courting a woman named Gizi, a female champion eater.  The opening scene is Kalman losing an eating competition by having a case of lockjaw while in the lead.  He’s distracted by Gizi and his coach is furious.  After being hospitalized, he proposes to Gizi, and she accepts, but at the wedding she leaves with a fellow competitor named Bella.  He runs out with her at the wedding, and in fact mates with her looking back into the wedding while Bella screams “Norway!” as though claiming her is some kind of a nationalistic victory.

 

NORWAY!!!!

 

Kalman is at a training camp, where the children are forced to eat from a gigantic trough like pigs, cheered on by their coaches and mothers.  Kalman goes on a rant, howling about the injustice of the world.  How the Bulgarians and Russians have taken everything away.  How as a youth he discovered the joys of championship eating, how as he grew inside unknown chambers would open up.  Finally his teacher tells him that speed eating has come out of fashion.

 

Watch this dude throw up 30 or 40 times

 

Meanwhile, Gizi and Kalman have had a baby.  They have to hide the fact that she is pregnant so that she can continue to compete.  We’re treated to a 10 minute montage of two happy obese people in love and expecting a child.  It’s a tiny segue.  Gizi and Kalman attent a boat party where it becomes clear that the speed eating is affecting her pregnancy.  She and Kalman are speed eating for the entertainment of the boat party, and she forces herself to go on until she passes out in the middle of dinner.

Tiny baby Lajos is born.  The final moments of part two are of the child happily suckling at a teat much, much larger than he is.

There is a cut, and a bird defecates on the street.

Hungary actually prospered under Communist rule.  This section of the film is almost happy, dealing as it does with two folks falling in love and having a child, but there is a dark ambivalence present, the overeating which could so easily kill everyone involved.  Again, we have some ambiguous paternalism.  Is Lajos Kalman’s child or Bella’s?

 

 

Part three:  Lajos

Lajos is a taxidermist (ahh!  they said it!).  He’s tall and incredibly thin, a stark contrast to the now several hundred pound Kalman, trapped and living in the basement.

 

Let yourself go a little there didn’t ya

 

Lajos is a deeply creepy man, and he flirts unsuccessfully with the girls at corner stores and restaurants, mirroring his grandfather’s sexual repression.  Lajos is forced to care for his father.  Kalman has become so fat that he is unable to move.  Lajos also has some monstrous, feral cats, which he feeds raw lard to fatten them up for later stuffing and sale.  The cats are so wild that they require a giant cage and a cattle prod to keep them at bay during feeding time.  Embittered, Kalman watches speed eating competitions on TV where he sees Gizi cheering someone else on.  Kalman has named one of his giant cats Gizi.

A well dressed man visits Lajos and asks that he taxidemize something for him.

Kalman and Lajos fight, each claiming to be disgusted by the other, and Lajos leaves, forgetting to lock the cats’ cage door.  As he goes, his father howls “I’m a world star, you don’t know what I’ve been through, I’ve had a vomiting technique named after me.”  Lajos heads to the gym, and works out much, much harder than his trainer advises him to do.  He returns home, and seeing the cats out of their cage immediately knows something is deeply wrong.  The cats have eaten their way into defenseless Kalman, devouring part of his massive belly, killing him, and leaving a trail of intestines across their cage.

Lajos performs a taxidermy on a foetus.

Flash forward.  Lajos is taxidermizing the corpse of his father, talking gently to the body about how good he looks.  He then straps himself into a giant machine.  We’re treated to a seven minute sequence of graphic close-ups of Lajos vivisecting himself, the machine keeping him just barely alive enough to do the deed, climaxing with it beheading and de-arming him.

 

Taxidermia

 

My little photo montage does this sequence no justice.  The shots are all incredibly close, indulging the horrific wrenching of organs out of his torso.  The sounds are awful, wet slapping, ripping, moist, dripping.  Every shot is motion: blood flowing through tubes, kidneys sliding, a beating heart removed from the chest.  Lajos is patient with the process.   The final motion of the machine is to behead him and saw his arm off.

The well dressed man returns to pick up his package, and we see that the taxidermy of the fetus was for him.  Not finding Lajos anywhere, he explores the building and finds Kalman and Lajos’ corpses.  He turns out to be an art director for a museum, and he brings the bodies to be put on display, like a grotesque Michelangelo’s David.

 

The end of Kalman

And there you have it.

Lajos: I has did a art

 

This is where the movie lost me.  So the theme of disconnection between the generations stays true, ambiguous parentage and all that, but if Kalman was the crushing end of the prosperity of the communist era, how does Lajos stuffing himself fit in?  Maybe he’s meant to show the directionlessness of modern Hungary?  No head, and a hand upraised as if pointing forward but decapitated and dismembered.  Taxidermy in and of itself is a kind of unnatural preservation of life.  Perhaps in preserving himself, headless and  armless he’s meant his body to serve as a warning for those who would yearn for the communist era?

Shit, whichever it is or however you see the end of this it was certainly a thought provoking film.

I ended up liking the movie way more than I was expecting.  It was certainly a difficult watch, what with extended scenes of projectile vomiting, sex with a pig corpse and the vivisection at the end, but it’s steeped with meaning and subtlety.  I’d even recommend it, if you’re up for a challenging watch that might get you thinking.

 

 Final Score: On a scale of 1 to AWESOME this film is like slowly tearing off a huge scab.  It’s gross and maybe stings a little but there’s new skin underneath and maybe is somehow satisfying, even if you never can admit it.

Bonus:  Amon Tobin does the soundtrack!  While he may have fallen somewhat off the musical radar in the last few years the sound of the film has a very Fight Club kind of frenetic energy to it.  Big win there.

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