There are films which are a joy to watch - uplifting, life-affirming, which give you hope and inspire you. There are films which move you - tough, arduous journeys which bring you to tears, but with a profound ability to affect you. Then there are films like ‘On Body and Soul’ - visually stunning and yet simultaneously gruelling, with a clever concept that elevates the idea of true love to something much greater. But are the arduous imagery and contentious themes worth enduring for the ultimate message?
Endre (Géza Morcsányi, making his on-screen debut at the age of 65) works as a manager at an abattoir on the outskirts of Budapest. He notices a new employee, Mária (Alexandra Borbély), a beautiful young woman, whose social awkwardness and unusual personality makes many of her colleagues uncomfortable. By complete coincidence, the two realise they are having the same recurring dream - running through the snow-covered woods each night as deers. A peculiar relationship forms between the pair, but their own insecurities seem to be keeping them apart.
'ON BODY AND SOUL' TRAILER
‘On Body and Soul’ comes to us from Ildikó Enyedi, whose debut film ‘My Twentieth Century’ won the Caméra d’Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. 18 years after her last feature film ‘Simon, The Magician’, she returns with a hugely impactful and shockingly beautiful film - so much so it was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards. The direction is impressive, with even the most mundane scenes such as those shot inside a cafeteria captured lovingly and innovatively. That all pales in comparison, however, to the scenes intercut with the deer - the dream sequences are utterly mesmerising, with visuals that rival a David Attenborough documentary.
However, it’s Enyedi’s writing that lets this film down. The pacing is off, with many events repetitious and the day-to-day events of Endre and Mária’s lives dragging on longer than necessary. I also felt a little uneasy about the male/female representation in the film - having a beautiful blond woman and a man three decades her senior drawn together seems a little trite, and Mária’s determination to transform herself to be able to fit into Endre’s life while he remains unchanged feels unbalanced for a film of this ilk.
It’s not just the small moments that the film contains; it embarks on immensely confronting moments which are both visceral and excruciating.
Nevertheless, they are two intriguing characters. They both have something which sets them apart, besides their introvertedness - Endre has a limp arm, and Mária has an obsessive compulsive personality, and appears to be on the autism spectrum. Enyedi describes them as “wounded”, leaving them vulnerable and therefore separate from their colleagues. They’re wildly different, but with an understanding and empathy of the other. Both actors delicately bring these attributes to the screen, Borbély especially - small scenes where she recreates the pair’s conversations with salt and pepper shakers are endlessly endearing and extremely telling of her character.
But it’s not just the small moments that the film contains; ‘On Body and Soul’ also embarks on immensely confronting moments which are both visceral and excruciating. Thought the film, we see the work that happens in the abattoir - this sterile, controlled environment where doleful animals are sent to die. It’s not the process itself that’s hard to watch, but the anticipation of knowing that it’s going to happen. This is mirrored with the events towards the end of the film, in a truly horrific response to the all-consuming emotions faced by this couple.
This isn’t a pleasant film, nor is it trying to be. It’s a film about loneliness, and what can happen when two lonely people find each other. The path for these characters to that point is so tumultuous, and it asks a lot of its audience. ‘On Body and Soul’ is a superb example of filmmaking craft, and its visuals are a sight to behold, but its somewhat uneven script does create its own challenges. Still, if you want cinema that makes you feel, this is definitely the film for you.