A lowly soldier has the unique gift of turning his penis into a flamethrower. Morbidly obese athletes stand around a massive trough, forcing themselves to vomit while discussing true love. Ravenous cats are fed a steady diet of butter. A taxidermist decides to try his hand at body art. A baby is born with a tail. Pig-fucking. Murder. Adultery. Insanity.
Well, that's certainly in the eye of the beholder, and with Taxidermia, that notion stands to be severely challenged and hotly debated. Hands down, Hungarian director György Pálfi's batshit-crazy movie was the most twisted and bizarre film in 2008's Portland International Film Festival lineup, if not one of the strangest films ever conceived. It's grounded in the bizarre and the grotesque, mining deep into the nastiness of human nature, but allowing small rays of light to shine down at the most unexpected moments, creating a jarring, often hilarious, always nauseating ride.
Taxidermia is a trio of stories linking three generations of truly unique men. In the first generation we have Vendel (Csaba Czene), a harelipped soldier who spends the majority of his time masturbating and brooding. He's honed a unique ability to suck the flame from a candle and blast a geyser of fire from his unit, but his strange sexual urges—Vendel's at once a peeping tom, a pederast and an addict with bestial urges—drive him to strange behavior. The second generation—and the film's most tender moments—feature Vendel's son Kálmán (Gergely Trócsányi), a morbidly obese speed-eating champion vying for the love of his female counterpart, Gizi. Scenes of mass vomiting and the couple inhaling pound after pound of caviar are indeed rather repugnant, but their love story is compelling, and between spurts of vomit there's some true romance as the couple prepares for parenthood. Which brings us to the third—and strangest—generation, revolving around Kálmán's dicey relationship with his rail-thin son Lajoska (Marc Bischoff), and his taxidermy business. Lajoska has big plans. No fun spoiling any more of this sick and twisted story, but suffice it to say that Lajoska's intentions make Body Worlds look like a kindergarten pottery class.
If I sound overly focused on the bodily fluids—indeed, body horror—of Taxidermia, that's because abjection is a theme running constantly throughout the film. Urine and feces, semen, blood, limbs, oils, vomit, sweat, body fat, organs and spit play as large a part in the narrative as the central characters, and often serve as some sort of morbid communion, each fluid taking on its own meaning. A spurt of semen explodes into a galaxy of a million stars. Uncoiling innards become just another part of an industrious contraption. Sweat dripping from a woman's underarm takes on an erotic trait. Characters lose (and consume) enough fluids and solids throughout Taxidermia to fuel a semester's worth of film and psychology classes.
But is it good? Well, yes, it is. Pálfi has crafted a strikingly original film that veers completely out of control in ways that would make Cronenberg sick. Is it recommended? Only to those who can see past the graphic deviant sex, seas of fluid and some pretty nasty gore. At an advance screening of Taxidermia, about half the audience left during a particularly detailed sex scene. Too bad for them. Buried deep under all the muck and sludge is a surreal gem.
screens at the NW Film Center's Whitsell Auditorium at 7 and 9 pm Friday-Saturday and 5 pm Sunday, Aug. 21-23.