Gyorgy Palfi’s “Taxidermia” is a certain kind of movie that doesn’t have a name — we could call it scato-absurdist-expressionist outrage comedy, with a lineage that stems back to the New Wave Czechs, Makavejev, Monty Python, Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Roy Andersson and the Coens, not to mention Takashi Miike, if he were Hungarian, and Guy Maddin, if the Winnipeg master of private ceremonies decided to regress and fully embrace Eastern European vulgarism. Or we could just not bother, and savor the whiplash.
A confrontational Rube Goldberg satire that packs three surreal dick jokes into its first 15 minutes, Palfi’s film plunges headlong into its own dialogue about Hungarian culture and the universal love-hate with our bodies, and the level of discourse is just as often lab-brat silly as it is genuinely disquieting. But while plenty of revolted reviewers were happy to chide the movie for its sophomoric excesses, there’s no denying its uncompromising brio. Palfi’s underseen debut, 2002’s “Hukkle,” had a similar comic sense of crossing vectors and ridiculous texture, even if it was completely dialogue-free. But “Taxidermia” is balls-out invention, prioritizing its degree of visual yuck over thematic thrust but tossing so much puke-flecked stuff on the screen that subtexts cannot help but emerge.
It begins rather turgidly — with a cock-obsessed Army orderly stuck on a squalid farm with his barking lieutenant and his family, and you don’t know why you’re there. It helps to have a grasp of the whole program — based on short stories by Magyar literary upstart-turned-major figure Lajos Parti Nagy, the movie is a triptych, essentially following a bastardized family lineage from WWII to the present, starting with this hare-lipped jerk-off, who manages to emit a flame from his hard-on, get it pecked at by a rooster while screwing a barn-wall knothole, and eventually copulate with a trough of butchered pig meat that he imagines is the lieutenant’s obese wife. Or does he? She gives birth anyway, to an infant with a piglet’s tail (snipped off in close-up, of course), and this Garcia-Marquezian urchin grows up in Communist Hungary to be the nation’s Fatty Arbuckle-ish champion in “sport eating,” the ordeal of which in Palfi’s imagining, complete with mass vomitorium breaks, is truly unlike anything you might’ve seen on ESPN.
There’s more, buckets and reams and body cavities of it, and there no getting around the fact that “Taxidermia” is authentically disgusting, even in an age where anyone can find images of coprophagia in .004 Google seconds. But it’s a hot-blooded blast as well, and this might be the best way to define its ersatz quasi-genre — that is, like Makavejev and Python and the Coens, Palfi’s film is predominantly all about the elan and vivid high spirits of the image-making, the joy of setting up dominoes and then toppling them, the full-throated cackle of a filmmaker having great, dirty fun at his craft. We’re in cahoots with Palfi more than with any of his characters, and just as the Coens used to get misread as being unsympathetic to their people, Palfi has received judgments of “cruelty.” But it’s a tradition that goes back to the tall-tale-telling of Chaucer and Smollett and Lawrence Sterne, none of whom “invested” in their protagonists more than they counted on the reader to share the bumpy, sardonic ride.
When Palfi does take aim at a target — particularly Communist-era populism and its manifestation as hysterical, organized gluttony — he hits it with a bazooka. (A mandated double-bill of this and “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs” might cure the obese-schoolkid problem in a shot.) If “Taxidermia” has a nagging problem, it’s that its attack on the human body takes on so many different forms (including self-surgery) that they seem to conflict and dissipate. But I’ll take the shotgun approach to satire over the sniper’s single pop anytime, and Palfi’s movie certainly makes a spectacular mess.