Gyorgy Palfi


(Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )

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Gyorgy Palfi (Hungary, 1974) debuted with Hukkle/ Hiccups (2002). A murder mystery of sorts, mimicks an ethnographic and nature documentary, and it has no dialogue, but it hides a harrowing story of mass murder. In fact, the "documentary" is a way to distract from the happenings. We sense that something is happening but we are constantly being distracted by images of plants, animals and objects. At the same time the "documentary", by comparing the life of the environment to the life of the humans that inhabit and use it, makes a point about the irrelevance of the human world.
Palfi indulges in microscopic close-up shots of nature and of objects (and these are often virtuoso camera shots). Scenes start from a minute detail and then expand to show that the detail is part of a bigger situation, which is really what we are interested in. The camera shows what we normally don't pay attention to: the life of objects and animals that the human protagonists use, a life that is necessary for humans to carry out their deeds.
The continuous shifting from microscopic to macroscopic reality seems to imply that the universe exists at an infinite number of levels, from the subatomic to the galactic, and what happens at one level (e.g. a cog that is gyrating inside a mechanical tool, or a bee that is buzzing in its cell) may be a meaningless part of an event that is very meaningful at a higher level (the human level)
The first part of the film is set in a rural pre-industrial world. The second part moves to the town, where a police officer is trying to solve an enigma that we will never completely know. The funerals, however, happen in the outskirts of town, where an old hiccupping man sits the whole day.
Unexplanined mysteries abound: what was the airplane all about? What about the earthquake that precedes it and doesn't seem to scare anybody? Why nobody talks? And, of course, what is this all about? all the funerals and the cop's investigation? And why is he arresting the woman of the cave?
There is no dialogue, not a single word. There is a soundtrack, but it is mostly sounds of nature, sounds of machines and sounds of the television. And, above all, the sound of the hiccups, as if to imply that life is just an endless series of hiccups.
This is a mesmerizing film of contrasts and contradictions. A snake is coiling among the rocks. A hiccupping old man drinks his milk, tends the animals of his small farm and then sits on a bench outside. The events that he sees are shown starting from tiny details, like a wheel that slowly reveals a horse-driven cart with a sleeping driver. A younger man smoking a cigarette is tending his sheep. A woman is listening to a portable radio with earplugs, and the man is spying her from behind a tree. A cart goes by, driven by two horses and nobody on it. Close-ups of the genitals of a pig announce that a pig is crossing the street. Close-ups of the cogs of a sewing machine announce that we are in a textile shop. The camera pulls back and slowly reveals a huge room in which all the workers are women. A car rides by on the unpaved road in front of the hiccupping old man. In the fields women use motorized agricultural vehicles. Close-ups show details of the assembly line that packages food. A car enters a home's backyard and we are shown every detail of the door, and then details of the food that the family eats at the table; even a close-up of the food inside a blender.
Then suddenly there is some action: a police car drives into town, and a funeral procession walks down the dirt road following a tractor that is carrying a coffin. A close-up shows details of the life of bees. A man is working on his beehive. A close-up shows details of the mechanical tool that he uses to make honey. A close-up shows details of bicycle spokes, then the legs of the person pedaling it, then finally the face of the woman who is riding it. She meets with the bneekeeper. They exchange a few words that we don't hear (so far there has been no dialogue of any sort). Another woman in anther house warms up her food in a microwave oven and serves it to her family. A mole comes out of its den and looks for food. A woman is digging a hole in her backyard. Someone rings the bell. It is a government agent. They chat (we don't hear a word) and the woman points at another elderly woman who is lying motionless in a bed and then signs something. The government agent hands her money. Now we understand that she is collecting money (presumably a pension) on behalf of the other.
The "action" shifts to the town, a place with paved roads and nicer homes. The cop is going home, his father being the beekeeper. His mother watches sopa opera on television while he chats and eats with father.
Then we see details of the bubbles in the water of a pond where a frog swims. Slowly the camera reveals the scene: the cop is investigating something at the house of a woman, and the house is right by the bank of the pond. He is taking photographs and trying to fish out something. The frog is swimming. The camera shows other fish in the water and then a corpse lying at the bottom. A fisherman is fishing among the reeds. When he catches a big fish, he walks back home satisfied, and later eats the fish while his family stares at him silently, as if they were attending a wake for a dead person. As he eats, we see his head turning into an x-rayed skull. This scene segues into the scene in a doctor's office, where the doctor is examining a man's x-rays. We see men playing bocce; and then another funeral procession. All funerals pass in front of the hiccupping old man, who obviously lives outside town on the way to the cemetery and never seems to care for anything.
An earthquake shakes the earth. Objects fall inside homes, the pier where the fisherman is fishing collapses. The church bell tolls. There is instead calm underwater. At the cemetery, leaves bury a tomb. A plane is flying over the countryside and scaring the sheep. The camera freezes the flight of the plane to show it in slow motion as it recklessly flies under a bridge. The cop stops and looks up puzzled. Now the old man's hiccups are louder, and the animals seem to respond to them.
The cop walks into the police station, and, after exchanging a long silent gaze with a female employee (close-up of the objects in her drawer that she just closed), walks upstairs to his office, where he examines his photographs. He watches outside the window as another woman cashes money from the government agent (agan on behalf of an elderly person who cannot move). We see a close-up of the cop's suspecting eye.
A woman is busy in a mountain cave getting water from a tank and pouring it on a tree's roots. Slowly she raises her head and we see that the cop is standing at the entrance of the cave. Again, no word is exchanged. He simply stares at her and she stares back. A pig is walking in the street. A man is playing bocce by himself (are all the others dead?) At a wedding banquet the women dressed in white intone a folk song about killing husbands, poisoning them, and the cop listens intently. The film ends with a heavy rain during the night, and, of course, a close-up of the drops as they hit the ground.

Taxidermia (2006) is a generational saga of sorts, with sarcastic and grotesque overtones and absolutely no happy ending. There are three endings, one for each generation, and each is a macabre death. It follows three men, one generation after the other, each living in a completely different world: World War II, communism and then globalization. Each man is condemned by a deadly vice: first lust, then gluttony and then taxidermia. The film seems to be mostly a grotesque satire, first of war, then of communism, and then of the Western lifestyle (the obese hyper-consumer of fat food, the lonely alienated worker, the art critic in the museum).

During the war a soldier, Morosgovanyi, lives in a remote outpost, just two buildings in the middle of nowhere. He is guest in the house of his sadistic lieutenant. In his humble room he plays with the fire of a candle and has a lot of fun when he manages to turn his penis into a flaming candle of its own. One day a week he is forced to wash himself in icy water while the lieutenant surveils him and delivers a monologue on the power of the vagina. The lieutenant's beautiful daughters are bathing inside the house. The tub turns and we see it as a coffin, as a washtub, etc: all the functions that it has had over the years. The girls play in the snow and the soldier peeps from a hole in the wall. The soldier masturbates using that hole but a chicken bites his penis. The soldier opens a book of fairy tales and an entire city of cardboard pops up, inhabited by the characters of the tale. The peasants are killing a pig, while the girls play with the severed paws. The pig is dismembered in the tub. At night the lieutenant's wife is feeling horny and invites him to have sex with her. She is extremely fat but the soldier has visions of the two daughters while he takes her. When he wakes up, however, he is sleeping in the tub over the dismembered pig. The lieutenant finds him there and shoots him in the head.
The fat woman gives birth to a baby with a pig tail that the lieutenant dutifully amputates. A virtuoso rotation of the camera fast forwards to when the baby has become a giant and is competing in some speed-eating pan-communist games against a Soviet champion. The contenders have to eat as much as possible as fast as possible. Then, during the breaks, they throw up as much as possible. Then the context resumes. Kalman is madly in love with the Mongolian legend Gizella, another obese champion, and is distracted by her. He collapses just when he was winning, but finds the woman at his bedside at the hospital. She accepts a marriage proposal by his rival Bela, but Kalman steals Gizella during the wedding feast. A flashback shows how Kalman's career began: his mother brought him to a sort of audition for aspiring speed-eaters and he easily won against much older and more experienced boys.
Gizella gets pregnant and during the pregnancy they take a vacation at a seaside location. An influential man invites them on his yacht and asks for a demonstration of their skills. The pregnant Gizella gets very sick but still complies. Ironically, after all that eating she gives birth to a gaunty child, Lajos.
Years later Lajos has become a taxidermist. He has his own shop and laboratory where he proceeds to split open the animals and then stuffs them. He is a lonely man. He tries to hits on a cute supermarket cashier but she ignores him. His father lives by himself after Gizella left him and has become so obese that he is confined to his chair. Lajos visits him every day to take care of the cats that father is keeping in a cage and feeding fat food for yet another grotesque context. One day the ungrateful father insults the son, and the son, offended, slams the door behind him without realizing that he has failed to properly close the cage of the cats. When he comes back to check on his father, he finds the old fat man dead: the cats have eaten his intestines. Lajos carries the corpse to his laboratory and stuffs it like an animal. Then the operation continues and soon we realize that the gory details are no longer of his father's entrails but of Lajos' himself. He is actually operating on himself by means of a complicated robotic mechanism. The machine cuts his chest, fills it with grass, and then sews it. Lajos is self-vivisecting. Lajos activates another mechanical arm, which is actually a sharp blade, and the arm beheads him. Later a customer comes to pick up the fetus that he had asked Lajos to stuff. One day this customer, who happens to be an intellectual, reports the findings to a gathering of people dressed in white, assembled in a large museum hall, at the center of which is the stuffed father while on a wall shines Lajos' torso.

Nem Vagyok a Baratod / I Am Not Your Friend (2009) is improvised by the actors on the set.

Final Cut - Holgyeim es Uraim / Final Cut - Ladies and Gentlemen (2012) is a collage of clips "stolen" from old movies, but it has a plot like a regular film. Carl Rainer did something similar in "composing" Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid (1982).

Szabadeses / Free Fall (2014), the most disjointed of his films, follows a housewife who just attempted suicide by throwing herself from the seventh floor as she climbs back up the stairs, witnessing a different story at each of the seven floors.

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(Copyright © 2014 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )