Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe
At the Chicago film fest back in October I got to see Taxidermia, Hungarian director György Palfi's binge-and-purge follow-up (though actually it's more about Olympic sport, or gluttony as national pastime) to his barnyard-inflected Hukkle debut (2002), and now I'm wrestling with the idea of his being some weird paprika variant of legendary Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, albeit with intestines fortified in brass. Not that the old-generation surrealist's ready to pack it in yet, as the recent Lunacy shows: still near the top of his stop-motion game, except now the live action's more fully integrated and blocked, less a matter of functional necessity (if it ever was that) than an elaborate formal dance, made all the more elegant/elusive by its plainspoken frame-and-shoot style.
But where Svankmajer opts for the freshly butchered slab, of animated beef tongue or whatever, Palfi goes straight for the living gut: fantastical spewings of upchucked food, intestinal organs pulsating in decorator hues of crimson, blood orange, vermilion ... Which somehow brings to mind, as cultural antecedents, the instructional shorts of the 30s and 40s by Jean Painlevé: "Look what's happening in these subterranean realms, in areas beyond the colon," etc ... Pretty spectacular stuff, actually--provided you can bear to watch. But Palfi seems far more obsessed than scientifically detached, no form of human corporeality alien to him, except for the conventional, the normally scaled. So one uberkompetitor begets another, one grossly obese father an anorexic son, like the melancholy taxidermist who almost threatens to disappear ... and eventually does in a self-designed wraparound shroud, the hunger artist stuffed and mounted. Or maybe it's more like crucified--after the hanging-tree installation by Hungarian architect Imre Makovec at the '92 Seville World's Fair, a cause celebre at the time that echoes subliminally here (as do other of Makovec's works, their hulking horizontal spread--at least I think that's the case, but others might not agree ...). While behind the whole corpulent shebang--underpinning it culturally, organically, iconically--lies the flat Hungarian plain, pure horizontality stretching toward the infinite ... yet another argument, another kind of speculation.
But what are the odds of Taxidermia's returning to Chicago soon? Not so good right now, as apparently there's no U.S. distributor (unless Tartan Films has the option). But if there's commercial room enough here for the likes of Marina de Van, yet another filmmaker of corporeal extremity, then it's hard to see why there can't be for Palfi also. Meanwhile, there's still the promise of DVD, which seems inevitable somewhere down the road. In any case, seasonal bon appetit to all ... just don't upchuck the Christmas ham.