and the film festival starts with Taxidermia

it is 1901 and a hairlipped oppressed orderly fucks the fat wife of his superior officer on the carcass of a pig we’d just seen slaughtered a minute or so ago. the bastard child becomes a champion speed eater in communist Hungary and fathers a child with another champion speed eater. Their child when it grows up becomes the taxidermist of the title who looks after his by now enormous father while of course skinning and preserving the widest range of creatures.  In the course of the film, we see a couple of erect penises, a deadpan conversation punctuated with copious vomitting, some very nice closeups of internal organs and what appears to be real penetrative sex. So, is this magical realism, an elaborate metaphor of modern Europe or an exercise in grotesque style?

Whatever it was, I walked out of the refurbished Capitol theatre thinking that Taxidermia was a promising start to the mixed bag of film that is the Melbourne International Film Festival. The time passed quickly, I was entertained some of the time but never bored and I got to gross out a few people at the Northcote Social Club afterwards.

But as I thought about it a bit more, it came to me that Taxidermia was in many ways an example of what seems to be a growing proportion of MIFF films – the new grotesque –  the equivalent of a circus sideshow, an assembly of freaks for voyeouristic thrill seekers. Beyond its beautifully composed images, its cast of wonderfully strange characters, it didnt go much deeper. If Taxidermia is a sideshow, then it has all the flaws of a sideshow, it leaves very little after the last gasp of surprise and disgust.

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