On Body and Soul (2017)
A brave filmmaker can blend genres but it takes a great one to get the balance right. Mixing absurdism, magical realism, romance, drama, and the grotesque, Hungarian directorIldikó Enyedi could not have been braver in the poetically inscrutable On Body and Soul (2017).
The opening scenes switch within seconds from seductively beautiful to shockingly ugly, so be prepared. A stag and a doe are frollicking in a snow-covered forest, eyeing each other from a distance while drinking from a small pond. The lyrical serenity is shattered by close-up scenes of the clinical killing of cattle in an abattoir; the contrast could not be greater. We then meet the boss Andre (Géza Morcsányi), a middle-age loner with a crippled arm who has withdrawn from the usual niceties of life. It’s also the first day for new quality inspector Måria (Alexandra Bordély), a misfit who cannot hide her unfiltered disconnection from others. Andre is immediately drawn to Måria without knowing why.
A petty theft in the abattoir leads to an investigation and a psychological audit of all staff. When asked about their dreamlife, both Andre and Måria independently give identical answers about the deers in the forest. When they realise the coincidence, they begin to reach out, needing to discuss their shared nightly dream of the stag and doe that are getting closer and closer. While we may find it implausible, the couple are fully immersed in its reality as well as the ugly realism of bovine sentients being killed for human consumption. Although they resist, both are drawn together through a transcendent experience neither can understand.
This simple linear plot includes several dramatic vignettes for added narrative texture: a suspicious psychologist; a nosy police investigator; autism-spectrum struggles; and an attempted suicide. These represent the mortal Bodyand the shared dream is theSoul, all filmed in an earthy colour palette to reflect the brutality of the world in between. Although the story moves slowly and the editing often feels laboured, the patient viewer is rewarded with an unusual love story that defies conventional tropes of romance.
Boldly original, disturbing, wonderous, heart-warming, and even disgusting are all adjectives that could be used in describing On Body and Soul. The film’s impact is startlingly different on many levels, especially its inversion of cinema’s universal obsession with the search for love. Instead, we have a story where love searches for those who need it. This is European storytelling at its best.
Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Stars: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Bordély