Family life veers into the surrealBy Kevin Thomas
György Pálfi's "Taxidermia" is a brilliant, often grotesquely bizarre allegory on life in Hungary from World War II to the present, a surrealist fantasy exploring the limits of the body and its desires and altogether a darkly funny comedy on the human condition in extremis. It is permeated with that highly developed Eastern European sense of absurd but is not for the faint of heart: There's much that is exuberantly gross, including some sexual imagery, but there are also images of startling beauty -- and horror. (In the film's most poignant sequence, Pálfi evokes the eternal cycle of life with only an old wooden bathtub as a prop -- a place for lovemaking, baptism, the laying out of a corpse, etc.)
Pálfi focuses on three generations. A grandfather (Csaba Czene), an orderly at a remote World War II military outpost, is consumed with sexual frustration and a longing for love. The orderly's son (Gergely Trócsányi) -- the product of the orderly's tryst with his nitpicking lieutenant's fat wife -- grows up to be a bulky speed-eating contestant at the height of the Communist era. The grandson (Marc Bischoff) is a scrawny, unhandsome taxidermist who cares for his now immobile father (Gábor Máté) who has proudly become surely the fattest man in the world.
With a horrific power that goes beyond Italian horrormeister Dario Argento at his most inspired -- and perhaps even David Cronenberg -- Pálfi gradually reveals the grandson's inexorable passion to create the most perfect work of art ever, an act that is as grotesque as it is oddly redemptive. Indeed, Pálfi leaves us with the sense that he strikes the right note in regard to Hungary's past decades of hardship and oppression, yet he also suggests that the artist's essence is ultimately elusive, literally buried deep within himself.
-- Kevin Thomas "Taxidermia." MPAA rating: Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 31 minutes. In Magyar and Russian, with English subtitles. At the Nuart in West L.A. through Thursday.