On Body and Soul (2017)

Intersplicing oneiric images of deer in the snow with slaughterhouse romance, Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body And Soul is an unexpectedly romantic vision of star-cross’d loving.

Winter Awakening

by Mark Wilshin

On Body And Soul

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Taking place in an often gruesomely explicit slaughterhouse, Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body And Soul is a strangely romantic vision. It begins in a snow-covered forest, documenting the looks and nudges of a doe and her buck. But it’s not long before this anthropomorphic gaze is cast upon the cows waiting for slaughter, wistfully casting their brown doe eyes to the sun. And it’s a delicious moment of pause that spreads across the land – as Enyedi’s as yet undiscovered protagonists are glimpsed, poised beneath the same sun before the factory whistle blows and work begins. With a bang.

It’s Maria’s first day, working as a quality controller with the slaughterhouse, and she’s as awkward as The Bridge‘s Saga Noren, hiding her toes from the sunlight, avoiding all physical contact and positively discouraging any kind of socialising with her colleagues over lunch or coffee. But, as she goes home to her obsessively and compulsively clean apartment, she reenacts her lunchtime chitchat with the Financial Director, hinting at an unlikely but tentative romance between this physically and psychologically crippled pair.

The plot is pushed forward with the introduction of a psychologist brought in to uncover the thief in their midst, as she probes the workers with embarrassing, sexual questions and makes inquiries about their dreams, allowing Maria (Alexandra Borbély) and Endre (Morcsányi Géza) to discover that they do in fact meet every night – as a male and female deer in a forest, both dreaming the same dream. It’s a strong concept that reclaims those earlier awkward anthropomorphic moments, and anchors the film in an otherworldly star-crossed love. But as the hesitant couple attempt to make a reality of their dreams, Of Body And Soul veers into black comedy, skirting just the right side of good taste.

Unanchored from its central structural concept, Enyedi’s film loses its way somewhat in the second half – resorting to a whimsical romance that relies heavily on its characters’ oddness to land its gags. But with strong performances and a delicate pacing, Teströl és Lélekröl reveals the tenderness of unexpected love and unemotional unflowering – all to the mournful strains of Laura Marling’s What He Wrote. Despite its more queasy and gratuitous moments of decapitation and self-harm, Enyedi’s film remains resolutely of the soul. And by the end, with Enyedi’s lovers no longer able to dream, and the forest now empty, On Body And Soul becomes a deterministically romantic vision of love. Beautiful, but much like its snowy forest grove, ultimately empty.

On Body and Soul premiered at the Berlin Film Festival, where it won the Golden Bear, and is released on 22 September 2017 in the UK.

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