February 15th, 2008 | by N.P. Thompson News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Body Horror and Just Plain Horrible: We've Got Even More PIFF!

     
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Our second-week Portland International Film Festival guide was published Wednesday, but the movies didn't stop screening then. AP Kryza and N.P. Thompson were able to catch screenings of two more movies debuting at PIFF this weekend. One is a solemn study of human misery in Mexico. The other features a man who can shoot fire out of his penis. Guess which one we liked.

Taxidermia

Taxidermia

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.

Beauty?

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 Taxidermia is the most twisted and bizarre film in this year's PIFF line-up, 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 at the same time 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, a hare-lipped 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 a nympho with bestial urges—drive him to strange behavior. Vendel's story is the film's ugliest. He's stranded on a barren Soviet outpost with nothing but his fantasies to guide him. Yet despite his extremely graphic sexual conduct, there's an odd beauty punctuating even the most deplorable scenes. It's sickening to watch Vendel indulge in a Humbert Humbert masturbatory fantasy, yet the scene plays out with a creepy elegance as Vendel's imagination transports him into a fairytale pop-up book.

The second generation—and the film's most tender moments—feature Vendel's son Kálmán, 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 Lajos. Kálmán resents his son's lack of mass and constantly criticizes his taxidermy business. But Lajos has big plans. No fun spoiling any more of this sick and twisted story, but suffice to say that Lajos' plans 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. It's easy to dismiss Taxidermia as a film that spends its time trying to out-gross itself. But in actuality 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 image of 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. AP KRYZA.

Taxidermia screens at 9 pm Friday, Feb. 15, 8 pm Monday, Feb. 18, and 9 pm Tuesday, Feb. 19 at Regal Broadway Cinemas.

silent light

Silent Light

A redefinition of insufferable, writer-director Carlos Reygadas's nearly two hour and twenty minute non-epic, which is about a farming community of blond Europeans who've migrated to northern Mexico, finds poetry in such things as a John Deere tractor parked in a garage. See how tall and imposing the tractor is – it's so magnificent, why doesn't someone take it for a spin, the movie seems to ask. Reygadas, somewhat like Vincent Gallo in The Brown Bunny, shows a fondness for photographing gray storm clouds and two-lane blacktops through the wide enclosure of a pick-up truck windshield. No one can accuse Reygadas of not being a visual stylist: Silent Light opens with a genuinely dazzling long take of the dark heavens, as starry night yields in circling, tilting camera motions to an ochre sunrise infiltrating the distant horizon, and then to the gradual dawn of day, as red clouds fade to white. The sound effects that accompany this, of cows lowing, are superb.

It's the human element that escapes Reygadas. He can't create characters, and he can't tell a story. The story he tries to tell feels like a rejected draft of a doomed collaboration between Annie Proulx and Ingmar Bergman, say, a hardscrabble prairie version of Scenes from a Marriage, albeit told entirely from the husband's point-of-view.

We meet the family in a lengthy, almost silent breakfast prayer, silent except for the loud, Bergman-esque tick-tock of a wall clock, and identifiable as prayer only by slightly bowed heads and a sudden, punctuating, “Amen!” The jowly, overalls-clad farmer Johan (Cornelio Wall) and his Scandinavian-featured brood commence with eating their corn flakes, yet once the children leave for school, and his wife (Miriam Toews, who vaguely resembles Liv Ullmann and has apparently been instructed to ape her mannerisms) takes off, Johan sits alone at the table toying with a spoon, then begins to weep. He's positioned in the center of the frame, and when the camera slowly pulls in toward him, it's the kind of stock, art-film cliché that's meant to indicate his tortured soul suffers deeply.

At one point, after they've been shampooing their children's hair in a pond, Johan remarks, “You've always been so good at making the soap, Esther.” His taciturn spouse responds to the compliment by allowing a single tear to fall. Almost everything in Silent Light feels as rigorously posed as this exchange, save for the peculiar freak touches that Reygadas will whip up. For instance, he includes a couple of superfluous musical interludes. In one of them, an American wearing a “Ford Country” t-shirt that has a deer's head emblazoned behind an SUV invites Johan's children into his van to watch black-and-white reruns of Jacques Brel singing cabaret. In another, Johan begins to warble a Tejano ditty, leaps in his truck, and drives around and around in circles while leering out the window at a Stetson-sporting best buddy. Reygadas's “good times” are as phony as his Eurocentric cribbing from other directors and as parched as the unpaved red clay roads Johan's truck dusts up.

And what does the title Silent Light signify? Could it be the gold geometric sunspots that shine like miniature crooked halos in the flaxen crowns of Johan and his mistress, a woman with a face like deep dish peach cobbler, as the two kiss endlessly in extreme close-up?

If this sounds horrible, well it is, and the mood at Whitsell Auditorium, where the movie press-screened yesterday, seemed to be one of unanimous dislike. There have been bombs, to be sure, scattered here and yonder in the festival, but I hadn't seen a film until this one where the audience, be it Silver Screen members or ticket-buyers, rose up in such collective relief (to the democratic sounds of inappropriate laughter) when a picture ended. Yes, I know Silent Light won a Cannes Jury Prize, but I think the derisive reaction it met with here is the more honest response. N.P. THOMPSON.

Silent Light screens 7 pm Sunday, February 17 (Whitsell Auditorium) and again at 8:30 pm Tuesday, February 19 (Regal Broadway Cinemas).
 
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