Hungarian cinema leaves us feeling stuffed!
Figure A – Lajoska Balatony surrounded by stuffed animals. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
Pálfi’s 2006 body horror Taxidermia, follows the story of three generations of men in three acts; each concerning a different afflicted and animalistic perversion. It begins with Morosgoványi Vendel, a sexually perverse man living as an orderly in World War Two. His perversions lead to the creation of his offspring. The offspring is a grotesquely obese man named Balatony Kálmán, who ventures into the world of comeptitive speed eating, eventually eloping with a fellow champion eater, and they have a child. The final act follows Kálmán’s child, the meagre taxidermist Lajokas Balatony, Lajoska has a perverse fascination with taxidermy (see Figure A); arguably an already aberrant fascination; and eventually stuffs his father and himself in an elaborate suicide.
Pálfi’s film is a grotesque exploration into the animalistic behaviours of man and uses animals in the film to demonstrate the absolute corruption of the post-socialist body. Pálfi reflects upon a rich history of post-socialist failures, and uses the stress and torment of the animal body to understand the ravages of political corruption upon the natural and animalistic self. I mean, we see an obvious blurring between the concepts of animalisation and anthropomorphism. At its core the film is a post-socliast horror. So, the viewer willingly enters a contract with the film to endure the horror structure, and understand even from its title, the horror of animality and its dual: anthropomorphism. If the viewer knowingly enters a contract with Pafli’s chosen genre, why is the animal representation so shocking?
Pálfi strips humans of their dominion over the animals, and reduces each of the men back to an animalistic state. By choosing the horror genre, does it mean that Pálfi, Taxidermia, and the audience can justify the actions of cruelty enacted onto the animals through the polyvalence of the genre? Literary and film critic Shaviro can help understand this daring cinematic venture as describing it as, ‘very much a product of perhaps inhumanity as a result of the failed socialist regime’. The concept of inhumanity is something which Pálfi seems not to only exemplify through the animals in the film, but also uses humans to depict the callousness of the socialist regime.
I think Pálfi creates an ethical dilemma, asking probing questions through this film by blurring the lines between animalism (of the men) and anthropomorphism (of the animals). Each scene in the film somehow connects to animals and animality of the humans in the film. However, there are a few where Pálfi masterfully displays the aforementioned blurring of the lines between the two concepts.
The above clip is a a sex scene between Morosgoványi and his superior’s wife, Mrs Kálmán . A sexually frustrated man, Morosgoványi is shown lusting over various women and animals, and is granted the gift of mutual sexual desire in this scene. Mrs Kálmán presents herself to him whilst laying in a bath full of the parts of a dismembered pig. It is interesting to note- that in all scenes of a sexual nature in the film, animals (dead or alive) are present. The grey and pale carcass of the pig is an unusual choice for sexual relations, but acts as no deterrent toward the pair. Already, Pálfi establishes the animalistic and grotesque nature of the humans in the film, as they are only able to connect sexually with an animals present. The scene appears to be lit by candle light and as the shots shift between the two, the dim lighting means that Mrs Kálmán’s large body and the pig carcass begin to morph into each other- See Figures B and C.
Figure B. Morosgoványi engaging in sexual activities. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
Figure C. Cut to a shot of dismembered pig rather than the Lieutenant’s wife during sexual relations. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
Pálfi creates a visual blending of the two concepts of the animalisation of humans and the anthropomorphism of animals here as the couple fornicate. The scene then montages clips of animal flesh, and Mrs Kálmán. Here Pálfi creates a visual representation of the ravages of post socialism on the animals and human body. By combining the two and equating them on such an intimate level, there is a comment on the stress and torment of the animal and human body under the regime. There are torturous processes at play in this scene for both animal and human. The animal’s dead carcass is fetishised and tormented through an act of perversion, proving that even after death, animals are not free from humiliation and exploitation.
Figure D. Lieutenant holds up Balatony Kálmán moments after his birth. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
As a result of these sexual relations, Morosgoványi and Mrs Kálmán have a child. Morosgoványi is killed by his superior consequently and the child is raised as Kálmán’s own. The child is born with a pig’s tail at the end of his spine, this is shown as the lieutenant raises the child up, he then leaves to collect tools to remove it. In this moment of life, the cinematography is left dull and flat, permeated with hues of grey, indicating the bleakness of socialist life. Even in a moment of perceived joy, Pálfi strikes again with visual symbolism. The choice to have the child born with a literal pigs tail is an unmissable didactic intention. Pigs are generally understood as a symbol of ignorance, greed and uncleanliness, so Kálmán being born with the tail of one makes perfect sense. We see a furthering of this idea of blurring the lines between animal and human, creating something which is wholly inhuman. The hybridisation of pig and human understands the loss of humanity under the post-socialist regime. The lieutenant cuts the tail off (see Figure E), in an act that can only be ascribed to genital mutilation. He tries to strip the child of his inhumanity in a topical violent force. Here we see a representation of soviet ‘solutions’ through cinema. We have the physical removal of evidence of inhumanity, but the internal effects of the perversion will always remain. Thus, the animal body is used as a mutilated political reckoning implement.
Figure E. The Lieutenant cuts the tail of Kálmán off. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
Kálmán grows up to be a successful competitive eater. He eventually finds love, whilst competing as a champion speed eater, with the female equivalent of his career position-Aczél Gizi. During their wedding, A Norwegian speed eater impregnates his wife, this sexual interaction which leads to the conception of their son is also in the presence of an animal – this time a Cow (much like Kálmáns own conception).
The product of their sexual deviance is a son, Balatony Lajoska. A small and malnourished baby, he acts as a surprise to the champion speed eaters, both being convinced they can fatten him up. Shortly after his birth, Gizi tries to breastfeed him, and here there is a strange scene where she attempts to breastfeed Lajoska. A prolonged shot of Gizi’s breast trying to wean the infant (see Figure F), then cuts to a scene of a bird’s anus leaking excrement (see Figure G). The symbolism that Pálfi employs here is much less straightforward than that of the animal representation seen beforehand in the narrative.
Figure F. Gizi Breastfeeds Lajoska. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
Figure G. The scene cuts to an unidentified bird as it excrements. Taxidermia. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
Looking at these two shots together it’s hard to note exactly what Pálfi is trying to show. The use of the unidentified bird defecating just after Gizi breastfeeds is an obscure choice. It’s hard to understand the literal didactic intention here, but I think rather than trying to create a sort of complex metaphor, Pálfi is gearing again toward something more literal. What is this teaching us? Watching breastfeeding on screen is still something mass audiences do not feel comfort within, and the horror genre encourages purposeful uncomfort. I think a bird’s anus also lies in the realm of uncomfortable actions. Yet, both of these processes are things which occur in the natural world everyday. The choice to keep the scenes showing the dismemberment and sodomising of the pig alongside these less violent moments, comments on our disturbance by such everyday occurrences. We also have to look at the cultural conceptions of bird excrement, it is largely considered a highly lucky occurrence. So (although this contradicts the rest of the narrative), suggests luck is in store. Or perhaps in a more abstract way, we as the audience are the only ones who witness this occurrence, not the characters, therefore we are lucky to not be experiencing the post-socialist inhumanity and rather we are able to witness a dramatic representation? I couldn’t find many sources on this particular scene- so all of this is just speculation.
Figure E. Balatony Kálmán is stuffed with his cats and put on display in an art gallery. Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
The final scene that I think continues to blur the lines between animalisation and anthropomorphism is at the end of the narrative. Lajoska grows up to be a scrawny taxidermist, with his father living in the back area of his workshop- abandoned by Gizi and grotesquely large. Baltony forces his two pet cats to participate (against their will) in eating contests. One day, Lajoska leaves his father and his cats at home alone and returns to his fathers carcass- assumedly having been eaten by the cats. Lajoska then commits suicide, and stuffs both himself and his fathers corpse, with the cats attached to his engorged stomach, waiting for a client to find and use them as an art installation- see Figure E. There’s a lot to unpack here, especially with understanding animals in the film as part of a political reckoning tool. In The New York Times, Stephen Holden describes how ‘’Taxidermia” belongs to a school of Central European surrealism that marries nightmarish horror with formal beauty.’. This is a good take, Holden understands the idea of how the crafted detail of soviet cinematic formalism also couples with the grotesque nature of the content. Having the father stuffed with the cats on him further relates to the idea of the hybridisation of animalisation and anthropomorphism.
The stuffing of a human, animal and oneself, combines surrealism and formal beauty into an artistic endeavour. As we follow the three unfortunate generations of men under post-socialist brutality and how each of them are reduced to the status of animal in unique ways, it is ultimately all a form of entertainment for the bourgeois class who consume their pain as art. As the stuffed cats engorge on their abusive owner, they are memorialised as such, and perhaps elevated to the status of the human consumer.
Reflecting on the film and its use of animals, I think Pálfi completely restructures the animal to human hierarchy and changes who governs the relationship. I’ve mentioned throughout that there is this visual conceptualisation of animalising the human whilst anthropomorphising the animals throughout. This comes ultimately as a result of the torment of the body under post-socialism, and in this case more specifically- in Hungary. The inhumanity that is found due to the ravages of the soviet union, is demonstrated in both the men, and the animals around them. The sexually perverse Morosgoványi, sodomises a pig as he becomes unable to distinguish the difference between the human and animal form – despite its perverse nature there is a sense of strange sympathy for these events. Then his son, born with a pig tail – left ambiguous as to whether Mrs Kálmán or the pig carcass are responsible for this- probably for the best. Kálmán grows to become a piggish character himself, then having his own son who is a scrawny perverse man, obsessed with stuffing bodies (ironic- considering his slender frame). The eventual death of the men, to then be stuffed alongside the two cats and preserved in an art museum. We see throughout the three acts, Pálfi equating the bodies in a creation of the inhuman hybrid due to the blurring of the distinctions between animals and humans under post-socialist rule.
Personally, I think despite their exploitation, the animals are freed of narrative constraints in this film in ways that other films cannot achieve. By using the genre of post-socialist horror, Pálfi is able to explore the animal body in ways that a more palatable genre cannot. The film can manipulate the animal form in a way that gives it stasis over the humans, and by the end of the narrative both human and animal are memorialised. Therefore, I think Pálfi creates a blend of both anthropomorphism and animalisation, and creates a new hybrid of the inhuman.
Guardian Article on Soviet film:
Conservation Magazine on the effects the USSR had on wildlife:
Article on the manifesto and principles of Soviet Surrealism:
Images are all stills from: Taxidermia (György Pálfi, 2006, Amor Far Filmproduktion).
Holden, Stephen. ‘A Speed Eating Course on the Bestial Apetites of Humanity.’, The New York Times, 13 August 2009, <https://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/14/movies/14taxidermia.html>. [date accessed: 21 January 2022].
Shaviro, Steven, ‘Body Horror and Post-Socialist Cinema: Györgi Pálfi’s Taxidermia’, Film-Philosophy, 15.2 (2011), 90–105 .
Taxidermia, 02:00 28/02/2013, FilmFour, 115 mins. https://learningonscreen.ac.uk/ondemand/index.php/prog/0073388B?bcast=94176053 (Accessed 19 Jan 2022).
Taxidermia, Gyӧrgi Pálfi, 03.02.2006,
Amor Far Film Produktion, Eurofilm Stúdió
Memento Films Production
Animals: Pig, Chicken, Sheep, Cow, Cat, Bird, Pigeon, Bat, Stag.
A list of every major focus of human-animal encounter:
Animal Agency, Military, Sport, Animal Experimentation, Pet Keeping, Food, Interest/Observation, Metamorphosis/Transformation, Spectacle, Training, Violence.
A list of each relevant film genre: Horror, Social Realism, Erotic, Exploitation, Historical, Surrealism.