Gyorgy Palfi (Hungary, 1974) debuted with
Hukkle/ Hiccups (2002), photographed by
A murder mystery of sorts,
it 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), the first collaboration with screenwriter
Zsofia Ruttkay and photographed again by Gergely Poharnok,
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
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
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,
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'
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,
another collaboration with
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.
Az Úr Hangja/ His Master's Voice (2018) is a sci-fi movie, based on Stanislaw Lem's 1968 novel.
Mindorokke'/ Perpetuity (2021), his first film without
Poharnok (replaced by Tamas Dobos),
is a post-apocalyptic movie.