The Embalmer

An effectively macabre and fiendishly entertaining tale of lust, unrequited love and the fine art of taxidermy from the Italian director Matteo Garrone. Peppino Profeta (Ernesto Mahieux) is a very small, profoundly unattractive master taxidermist with a rabbity smile, a greasy comb-over and a wardrobe overflowing with flashy polyester blends. It's rumored...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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An effectively macabre and fiendishly entertaining tale of lust, unrequited love and the fine art of taxidermy from the Italian director Matteo Garrone. Peppino Profeta (Ernesto Mahieux) is a very small, profoundly unattractive master taxidermist with a rabbity smile, a greasy comb-over and a wardrobe overflowing with flashy polyester blends. It's rumored around the run-down Italian coastal town where he plies his trade that Peppino works for the mob, and its true that he's occasionally called upon by a certain Don Pasqualino (Bernardino Terracciano) to put his skills to a less conventional use, namely extracting baggies of smuggled drugs from the body cavities of human corpses. Nevertheless, Peppino maintains a certain respectability around town, despite his morbid trade and a predilection for beautiful young men. One afternoon at the zoo, Peppino spots a particularly delectable specimen: Valerio (Valerio Foglia Manzillo), a towering, square-jawed Adonis. Peppino slithers up to Valerio and begins chatting the young man up, soon driving Valerio's girlfriend (Marcella Granito) away with endless talk about animals. (In a sardonic stroke typical of Garrone's sense of humor, the scene is viewed through the eye of a ugly, scavenging marabou.) Valerio, however, is actually interested, and agrees to visit Peppino at his workshop. When a smitten Peppino offers to take him on as apprentice, Valerio quits his job at a local restaurant; when Valerio's married brother tosses Valerio out of his apartment, Peppino agrees to let him move in. The boundaries of propriety between master and apprentice soon blur. Peppino buys his young friend an expensive watch, and begins arranging intimate parties with prostitutes, during which Peppino spends more time ogling Valerio than his own date. Trouble arises when Deborah (Elisabetta Rocchetti), a sexy receptionist at an auto mechanic's office, arrives on the scene. There's instant heat between her and Valerio, and within days of their meeting she's sharing his room at Peppino's place — an arrangement the 50-year-old taxidermist is willing to tolerate so long as Valerio stays put. But when Valerio breaks the news that he and Deborah are planning on moving into their own place, Peppino decides it's time for Deborah to go away — for good. Inspired by the true story of a grisly murder in Rome, Garrone has spun a decidedly creepy little yarn that's not without a strange, almost tragic, beauty. Manzillo, an Italian model with no previous acting experience, is well-cast as the good-natured lunk, but Mahieux delivers the performance you won't soon forget. He's a perfectly creepy little Rigoletto guaranteed to make your skin crawl.

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  • Released: 2002
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: An effectively macabre and fiendishly entertaining tale of lust, unrequited love and the fine art of taxidermy from the Italian director Matteo Garrone. Peppino Profeta (Ernesto Mahieux) is a very small, profoundly unattractive master taxidermist with a ra… (more)

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