On Body and Soul (2017)
Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély
Plot: When slaughterhouse workers Endre and Mária discover they share the same dreams - where they meet in a forest as deer and fall in love - they decide to make their dreams come true but it's difficult in real life.
Genre: Drama / Romance
Awards: Won Golden Bear, Prize of the Ecumenical Jury & FIPRESCI Prize (Berlin). Nom. for Best Foreign Language Film (Oscar)
Runtime: 116 mins
Rating: M18 (censored) for sexual scenes
International Sales: Films Boutique
IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
Note: The uncensored version was reviewed.
There’s no surprise why this film from Hungary won the top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival last year. Its premise is tantalising: a man who works in a slaughterhouse (though in the comfortable confines of his office as the company’s chief finance officer) and a woman who makes a temporary visit as a quality control auditor realise that they share the same dream when they sleep. In the opening scene, we see shots of a pair of deer grazing peacefully in a snow-covered landscape. This is their shared dream where they embody these creatures as they find food—and possibly mate. (Mating or the act of sex is an integral part—and foreshadowing—in On Body and Soul, which I will briefly mention later.)
The film’s attractive premise is even more brilliantly executed through visual and narrative means—I would describe the work as dreamlike and poetic, tender and compassionate. But it is challenging to watch insofar as it deals with psycho-emotional uncertainties of prospective love and eternal isolation in a modern world depriving humans of genuine connection with one another. Which is why the two leads, Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and Mária (Alexandra Borbély), become writer-director Ildikó Enyedi’s singular conduit to which these themes are explored in Freudian if also earthly ways.
Fascinatingly, Enyedi has asked of Borbély to give an ultra-calibrated performance, portraying Mária as an emotionless, low-EQ figure who only knows how to do her job right. She lives alone and finds herself on the cusp of discovering physical intimacy—and possibly love—for the first time. Morcsányi’s understated down-to-earth performance as Endre, on the other hand, balances Mária’s otherworldly aloofness, giving the film an overall atypical experience.
Enyedi knows how to use music at the right time, including an ethereal motif that speaks the unspeakable, and in a couple of scenes with Mária, the striking use of the song “What He Wrote” by Laura Marling. An unconventional love story that also manifests itself as an inquiry on the phenomenology of intimacy—sex being the ultimate natural equivalence between two bodies and souls—On Body and Soul breathtakingly depicts the mysteries of life through the enigma of art and achieves a rare transcendence. It’s hard to believe this is Enyedi’s first film in 18 years... but what an astonishing comeback!
Verdict: As tender as it is unconventional, this Golden Berlin Bear winner is an inquiry on the phenomenology of intimacy, through fascinating visual poetry and calibrated performances.