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Magyar film revue: from the ridiculous to the sublime

New Hungarian features on view here range from the utterly ridiculous to the utterly sublime. At the ridiculous extreme is "TAXIDERMIA" by "Hukkle" director Pálfi György, while on the sublime side of the spectrum is the ethereally sensuous "The Bird Saviour, Clouds and Wind", by first time director István "Taikyo" Szaladják.

"Taxidermia" doesn't have much to do with the art of taxidermy (although a taxidermist does make a brief appearance toward the end), but everything to do with force feeding of fat people, voluminous streams of regurgitation, masochistic self-torture with candle flames, and graphically disgusting butchering of a pig. It seems that upcoming young director Pálfi is out to make an indelible impression on the local film scene by outdoing John Waters in shock effect, Bunuel in acid satire, and Peter Greenaway in sheer disgust. Missing from his film, however, is Waters' sense of humor, Bunuel's subtlety, and Greenaways erudition.

The film starts out with a long dark sequence involving a sexually perverted soldier who revels in tickling the tenderest portions of his anatomy with candle flames when not engaged in other acts of sexual aberration with a constantly turgid purple penis. He is ordered about by a screaming, sadistic unteroffizier of some sort, which is perhaps meant to be a wry commentary on military discipline but comes off as a wry commentary on nothing. Fortunately this gruesome soldat is killed off with a quick bullet to the head some twenty minutes into the picture, whereupon we segue into the main part of the film -- a series of public gluttony competitions in which extremely obese people slop up messes of food from wooden trowels as
fast as they can -- sloshing their faces in the mess as they go -- and then, with the help of assistants, vomit it all out as fast as they can, to get ready for another round of ravenous scarfing -- and then another round of puking ... and so forth. We focus on a particular extra fat couple who apparently are vying for the sloppiest scarfers in the world title, and they have a professional trainer to hone their skills. Somewhere in between there is a graphic hog vivisection where the hot steaming innards are pulled out in full camera close-up, and then the bloody butchered carcass is blackened over an outdoor fire. Perhaps this is meant to be a sardonic comment on the primitive ritual of Pig Killing (diszno ölés) traditional in many Hungarian villages at certain times of the year. On and on it goes -- more gluttony, more vomiting, and lots of blood and guts whenever possible.
Personally I had gotten the basic message after the third or fourth stream of hot vomit --very realistically done, I must say, with none of the conventional gentility of ordinary films when a character gets sick to his
stomach -- and considered hitting the exit several times long before the halfway mark, but for some reason, maybe just an excercise in patience and self discipline, I decided to stick it out until the bitter end, just to see how much vomit I could take without flinching -- and I did finally make it.
If this was supposed to be a black comedy I did not hear a single chuckle the entire time, although oddly enough, there were no walkouts from the packed theater. A kind of mass hypnotism or something -- who can say? I was told later that some people actually liked the movie, or at least thought it was interesting. I guess even in Hungary "different strokes for different folks" is a valid bromide. I am most curious to see what kind of business this film will do in the commercial cinemas when and if it is released, or escapes. So much for the ridiculous. By the way, the music wasn't bad ... and, come to think of it, just for the cachet attached to the director's name and the blatant in-your-faceness of it all, "Taxidermia" may pack its way into some festivals -- especially the ones dedicated to horror and bad taste.

On the sublime side of things, "The Bird Saviour, Clouds and Wind" (Madárszabadító, Felhõ, Szél) is as polarly opposite from "Taxidermia" as it is possible to get and still stay in this Universe. This film is extremely slow with long lingering images of wispy summer clouds and amazingly beautiful stretches of yellow fields -- Van Gogh yellow -- framing the story of a gentle Russian pilgrim who releases trapped birds as he goes. The saintly pilgrim meets a teenage boy out in these fields and tries to convey some of his peaceful philosophy and poetry to the youngster, to little avail. Eventually a cartload of grubby Peasants from the local village arrive carrying wooden cudgels with which they beat the bird releaser to death. However, this is such a gentle film that even the fatal beating is barely seen as it takes place in the distance in high grass obscuring the violence. All this is, of course, very symbolic (the nail that sticks out must be battered down!) but the story, what there is of it, is completely secondary to the incredibly beautiful visual effect and the music is also ethereal. Most unusual for a Hungarian film is that all the
actors and all the dialogue is in Russian (with Hungarian subtitles). I asked the director "Why Russians" , and where exactly in Russia was this filmed?". The answer: It was not filmed in Russia at all, but in the
Badacsony hills area of Hungary and, although the scenario was written in Hungarian director Szaladják says that there was something about that simply cried out for a Russian setting and Russian voices. Robert Ovakimjan is, in fact, not an actor but a Russian-Armenian painter of some note, and some
of the others were amateurs. In any case an extremely beautiful and metitative film to watch and an ode to the Art of filmmaking. This is "Taikyo" Szaladják's first turn as a director, but he has a rather lengthy career behind him as a cameraman. He was, in fact, the cinematographer on another film in the Szemle. While this can be regarded as an esthetic masterpiece, "Bird Saviour" is perhaps not a film for the non-beatifically inclined. I however, found myself in esthetic thrall throughout, and Eva Zaoralová, artistic director of the Karlovy Vary film festival, who was in the audience, immediately came forward to earmark this one-of-a-kinder for her mid-summer Czech showcase.

In the documentary sector Péter Forgacs' new offering, "Perro Negro -- Stories from the Spanish Civil War", feature length at 84 minutes, is another feather in the cap of this unique Hungarian filmmaker. Péter has developed a documentary style in which he works with found footage, amateur film footage, even home movies -- which he then embeds in archival footage and/or newsreels to create a highly personal view and you-are-there feeling for historical events.Says Forgács, "For long decades the Spanish Civil War was something like a black and white Robert Capa photo to me. (NOTE: Capa, famous for his battlefront pictures of the war, especially in LIFE magazine) was a Hungarian from Budapest) -- my private Spanish adventure began in 1993 when I discovered the amateur films of Ernesto Noriega, some of them made in prison in the midst of the war". This brought hard questions to his mind about the fate of ordinary people who were just trying to survive in the murderous fratricide which became the prequel to World War II. The film was several years in development and was financed by Dutch and French producers.
For anyone with any interest at all in this most crucial period of the twentieth century "Black Dog" is an absolute must-see film. Actually, it's like a full history course on the Guerra Civil packed into an hour and a half. Among the many unforgettable images, near the close during Franco's victory parade in Madrid, the skies are filled with formations of German "Black Condor" bombers -- the same airborne rats who did Guernica -- spelling out in the sky the letters F-R-A-N-C-O ... as the pint-sized generalissimo who would tyrannize Spain for the next 46 years, grins and gloats down below.

Alex Deleon, Budapest


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