"Taxidermia" is an experience not easily forgotten, but is it successful in what it sets out to do? Moreover, what is its purpose outside of churning stomachs? To be sure, writer-director Gyorgy Palfi has created a one-of-a-kind motion picture, as inscrutable and bizarre as it is disturbing yet darkly wondrous. He is sure to garner a strong reaction from everyone who sees it, but his deeper creative and thematic aspirations are mostly lost in a cavalcade of freakishly sexual and grotesquely violent material that overwhelms the characters and their stories.
From what can be deciphered, "Taxidermia" chronicles the lives of three generations within a wildly dysfunctional Hungarian family destined for nothing but misery. The hair-lipped Morosgovanyi (Csaba Czene) is a soldier on leave from WWII, residing in the barn of oppressive superior officer Hadnagy (Istvan Gyuricza) in exchange for manual labor. Forbidden to spy on Hadnagy's daughters and wife, Morosgovanyi insatiable appetite as a peeper and a sexual deviant gets the best of him, leading to a literally chicken-pecked penis, a pedophilic erotic fantasy involving Hans Christian Andersen's "The Little Match Girl," and an act of necrophilic bestiality. Morosgovanyi meets a sticky end just before the birth of Hadnagy's unexpectedly illegitimate son, Kalman, coming into the world with a curly pig's tale that is promptly severed from his body.
From there, the timeline leaps forward to the Soviet era to find Kalman (Gergely Trocsanyi) now a grown man working as a professional speed eater. He wins the Divine-like Gizella's (Adel Stanczel) hand in marriage, but their combined gluttony is like an incurable disease. Kalman is none too pleased when their baby, Lajos, arrives prematurely as a slightly-built runt, and by the time Lajos (Marc Bischoff) is an adult, skinny as a rail and working as a skilled taxidermist, Kalman and Gizella are long since no more. Kalman, filled with a disdain for Lajos' chosen career that is only equal to his beyond morbidly obese immobility, has become bitter, lonely, verbally abusive toward his son, and obsessed with fattening up his three cats with a steady diet of margarine bricks.
Bouts of magical realism coincide with gore, pornography and body-flinching brutality in "Taxidermia," a borderline-inexplicable endurance test that flirts with drama, satire, fantasy and horror without safely fitting into any of said genres. The characters are repulsive on the inside and out and, thus, it is impossible to feel much of anything for them. It is safe to say none of them will be awarded humanitarian of the year. Broken into three distinct sections, the film's opening half-hour is little more than a series of sex acts, each one more perverse than the next; the middle segment tests the boundaries of one's threshold for countless scenes of people overeating and throwing up; and the final third leads to unimaginably dark and gruesome places as the atrocities of the Balatony family legacy culminate in uncommon works of lasting art.
Vividly photographed by Gergely Poharnok, who sneaks moments of beauty and whimsy—e.g., a pop-up book springing to life; a balloon swirling ever higher above a stadium; fish leaping out of the ocean at the bow of a sailing ship—into stretches of ruthless grittiness, "Taxidermia" is nothing if not an intriguing failure. One does not care about what happens so much as one grows increasingly alarmed at where director Gyorgy Palfi will take his film next. We shudder and wince at his fearlessness, and then are left to question what the meaning of it all is. If Palfi knows the answer to this, it must be obscured, lurking somewhere in Kalman's spilled, feline-chewed intestines.