Film Review: “On Body and Soul”

Film poster: “On Body and Soul”

On Body and Soul (Ildikó Enyedi, 2017)

Ildikó Enyedi is perhaps the most reliable female director from Hungary working today. She was awarded best director by the Hungarian film critics awards with “Simon, the Magician” in 1999, and won the Golden Camera prize at Cannes with “My Twentieth Century” in 1989.

The abstruse arthouse drama “On Body and Soul,” her first feature in 18 years, has been collecting accolades in festivals worldwide. Besides the nomination for Best Foreign Language film by the Academy, the film conquered Berlin, winning the coveted Golden Berlin Bear in addition to the FIPRESCI Prize and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury.

Ms. Enyedi, teaming up with cinematographer Máté Herbai for crispy clear images, adopted that sort of weirdness that slowly conquers you. This unconventional love story starts to unfold in a slaughterhouse located in the outskirts of Budapest, thus, it’s not those sweet tales painted in pink. Instead, there are heartbreaking moments of loneliness, situations filled with embarrassment, discomfort, disillusionment, and despair. Apart from this, one can also find hope in love.

The lovebirds here are Endre (Géza Morcsányi), the attentive financial director of the slaughterhouse, and the newly-arrived quality inspector, Maria (Alexandra Borbély), a stiff, often unresponsive, and mechanic person who has trouble interacting with people. Maria becomes Endre’s protégé, even after marking high-quality meat with a grade B just for a tiny bit of extra fat. The curious thing is that both of them are already in love with each other, but they just don’t know yet. As soul mates, they have the same dream every night. In their subconscious, they are deers wandering in the snowy woods and looking for a water stream to drink and rub their noses.

Géza Morcsányi and Alexandra Borbély

This baffling aspect is only discovered during an investigation conducted by the petulant Klára (Réka Tenki), a police psychologist who thinks they have agreed previously on telling the same dream. In the meantime, we find that Endre slept with his co-worker’s wife and that Maria, in all her innocence, continues to visit the psychologist of her childhood. Feeling both insecure and curious, she wants to make the right step and learn right away the art of love, but through observation, which includes peeking at couples kissing and watching hardcore pornography.

Even without transcending in many fronts, the film has in Ms. Borbély its great stimulus. Those final disturbing images, when despondency and weakness penetrate into her soul, are indolently agonizing.

Yet, don’t let the sluggish pace discourage you, and enjoy both the dark humor and the uncanny vibes of a tortuous Hungarian romance marked by strong dualities: the physical and the spiritual, life and death, the real and the dream. Don’t worry, in the end, everything becomes lucid.

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