Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi has broken all the rules of romance films with her latest project. Winning the Golden Bear in Berlin earlier this year, On Body and Soul follows the disjointed, awkward yet beautiful relationship between an abattoir manager, Endre — played by big screen debutant Morcsányi Géza — and new quality-control inspector Maria.
Endre is a reserved character, who lives a passive life with a disabled left arm. He appears to live a lonely life, livened up only by his tiresome and garrulous HR supervisor Jenö. However, after glimpsing Maria stood outside his window, hiding in the shadows, his monotonic life is illuminated. The flirtation between the two characters starts off slow and dysfunctional, mostly due to the socially awkward nature of Alexandra Borbély’s Maria.
Yet, after the revelation that they both share the exact same dreams every night — Endre dreams he is a stag and Maria that she is a doe – their romance blossoms. In their connected night-fantasies they run together through a picturesque snowy forest, foraging for food, and sipping from icy streams.
Enyedi’s surreal and mesmerising feature is an exquisite blend of the banal and the abnormal.
The unusual backdrop of a slaughterhouse is somehow turned into an ethereal and living organism, captured marvellously by the cinematography of Máté Herbai. On Body and Soul is not of the same ilk of anti-meat films such as Netflix’s Okja or Simon Amstell’s Carnage, yet it without a doubt creates sympathy for the bovine subjects that are waiting to be slaughtered, through beautiful close-ups of cow eyes and muzzles.
At times. the film adopts an almost documentary-type feel to it, and the way in which the mundane working activities of the abattoir are transformed into poetic movements is reminiscent of Mercedes Álvarez’s Mercado de Futuros (2011). Despite the juxtaposition between the tangible slaughterhouse scenes and the soothing, divine dream sequences, there is just as much delicacy and tranquillity in both worlds.
On Body and Soul is an excellent feature which, with the introduction of the shared dreams concept, goes from understated realism to romantic fantasy. It has quite rightfully been selected as Hungary’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Films at the 2018 Academy Awards, and will hopefully make it onto the nominee shortlist. An unconventional love story, Enyedi’s beautiful picture will pluck at the heart strings as much as it does boggle the mind.
An unconventional love story, Enyedi’s beautiful picture will pluck at the heart strings as much as it does boggle the mind.