Hungarian director Gyorgi Palfi's 2007 film Taxidermia is grotesque, bizarre, unsettling and very frequently hilarious. A film told in three chapters, each of which is a self contained story that is intertwined with the rest of the movie, it's a film that somehow manages to celebrate the history of its homeland while simultaneously subjecting its audience to the very worst that the human body has to offer.
The first chapter takes place while Hungary is under Soviet occupation and it follows a lowly soldier named Vendel (Csaba Czene) who is basically forced to act as a servant for his superior officer and his family. While they live comfortably inside a nice house, he lives in a shack and occupies his time with menial tasks such as filling their bathtub with hot water. This also affords him the chance to spy in on the two nubile daughters who share the home, which gives him plenty of masturbation fodder to get him through the cold winter nights. Vendel, is an odd man, however, and has the ability to shoot fire out of his member when he ejaculates. He impregnates his commanding officer's wife, and all hell breaks loose.
A boy is born out of the first story. Named Kalman (Gergely Trocsanyi), he's raised by Vendel's boss as his own son and turned into the finest of Hungary's competitive eaters. As Kalman makes his way through the harsh world of the competitive eating scene, he becomes involved in a race to win the heart of the woman's eating champion. When he wins and they marry, it's not long before she bares him a son, which segues into the third and final chapter as we meet him, now a grown man named Lajoska (Marc Bischoff) who is the complete opposite of his father, who has grown to absolutely gigantic proportions. Lajoska makes a living as a taxidermist, much to his father's dismay. Nevertheless, despite the constant berating and abuse from his father, Lajoska dutifully attends to him and his equally gigantic cats.
Despite the fact that Palfi's film frequently goes for the gross out and has no qualms whatsoever about rubbing our face in some literally pornographic imagery, Taxidermia never really feels like cheap exploitation. There's a very deliberate playfulness to the picture that makes it hard to be offended by it, despite the fact that the film regularly provokes us with sex, violence, and grotesqueries galore. You can't quite call it a 'warm' film but it works on the same level as Takashi Miike's Visitor Q in that it does deal rather interestingly with the traditional family dynamic, albeit with healthy doses of body horror the likes of which would make a young David Cronenberg blush.
As twisted as the picture is, however, it's wonderfully photographed. The cinematography is, for lack of a more appropriate term, picture perfect and the care and attention to detail afforded the set design really helps us to appreciate the craftsmanship that went into the picture. The performances are equally impressive, each one as daring and bold as the next and played to the hilt. There is no such thing as subtlety in this film, and the acting reflects that, but the often times over the top approach works well in the context of what the film creates. Rich with symbolism, Taxidermia is certainly not for all tastes and will never find anything even remotely resembling mainstream acceptance but it's a smart, clever and funny picture that takes a wholly unique approach to dealing with how we view ourselves, our bodies and our family dynamic. There's some memorably disgusting moments that you won't soon forget in addition to some great visual contrast to stimulate your eyes as well as your brain. It's a film that makes you think, and which is as humorous as it is repulsive.
The anamorphic widescreen transfer on this DVD is passable but not without its flaws. Aside from that fact that it's interlaced, the colors tend to be a bit murky. Much of this is because the film was shot with a lot of odd and rather sickly looking color choices but compression artifacts are also part of the problem. That said, it's certainly watchable enough. Detail levels aren't reference quality but aside from the darker scenes, they look okay. Color reproduction is hit or miss and the reds can sometimes look a bit blotchy. Some mild trailing indicates that this might be a PAL to NTSC conversion.
The film hits DVD with a Hungarian language Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo track with optional subtitles available in English only. There aren't any problems here to report on. The dialogue is easy enough to decipher through the sound effects and the levels are well balanced. There isn't a ton of channel separation but this mix gets the job done without any issues.
The best extra on the disc and the only one of any real substance is a forty-two minute documentary on the making of the film that features some interesting interviews with the cast and crew as well as some behind the scenes footage. It's a pretty interesting piece that follows the film from start to finish and that shows the amount of work that went into the pre-production, set design and effects work and that gives us some insight into Gyorgi Palfi's intentions and creative process as far as this film is concerned.
Aside from that, there's a trailer for the feature, previews for a few other E1 Entertainment releases that play when the disc is inserted, menus and chapter selection.
As bizarre and unsettling as it is hilarious and just really well made, Taxidermia isn't for the squeamish or the easily offended but it certainly will appeal to those with a morbid sense of humor. If you can appreciate the film's flawless design, fantastic performances and truly twisted direction then there's a very interesting movie to be appreciated here. E1's DVD looks and sounds okay, even if it does leave room for improvement, while the included featurette adds some context to the feature attraction. Highly recommended for those with a taste for the bizarre, but you have been warned.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.