On Body And Soul : ‘Mumbai Film Festival’ Review
Winner of the Silver Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival, Ildikó Enyedi’s “On Body and Soul” is a film where the two introverts at its center have the same dream each night. As ridiculous as that might sound, Enyedi’s sensitive direction makes this film about the human connection much more visceral & tender. One that captivates, in spite of being set in a place where emotions of any sort seem like a distant possibility.
Set in a Hungarian slaughterhouse, the film opens with prolonged shots of farm animals getting chopped off for meat. Which is not supposed to shock but to present a sort of tenderness that might jell you into the possibility of a romance blossoming in the premise. This, however, isn’t your usual romance. If unconventional romances had a face value, the film would shot up way high on the list.
Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is a middle-aged man and manager of the slaughterhouse. With a disabled arm & an over-talkative friend who is always curious about the whereabouts of his co-working wife, Endre isn’t too pleased with the connections he has with the world. Which only makes it surprising when he is suddenly intrigued with the new employee at the office. Maria (Alexandra Borbély), the new beef inspector is a tough nut to crack. She only speaks when it’s absolutely necessary to and her straight-faced instant replies don’t seem to come from someone who understands emotions.
The only solace these two peculiar co-workers seems to get is in their dreamscape. In their dreams, he is a buck while she is a doe. They just don’t share the same dreams but their souls in their respective bodies understand one another. A shared leave serves as a trigger point of all the laid-back emotions. The dreams help Maria more than they help Endre, who in comparison is better-off with his daily life. After he hires a feisty young butcher & something gets stolen from the slaughterhouse, the film starts opening up. Endre & Maria find out that they are having the same dream which finally develops the long-lost need for human connection and desire in them.
Maria finds it very difficult to not notice things that are out of place. She can’t help but blurt out whatever runs in her head making it very difficult for her to communicate her emotions or to feel and understand them in the first place. Struggling to make Endre understand what she feels, moreover making herself understand what she feels, Maria visits her old therapist. Serving as one of the most chuckle-worthy moments in a film that is filled with low-key-straight-faced-humor.
That being said, Enyedi makes sure that her characters don’t become laughing stocks for people who are not in the same realm of understanding. She pays special attention in making Maria a woman of substance. I especially loved the scene where she practices talking to Endre during their lunch break. The subtleness in showing her sort of jealousy, regret & sadness makes “On Body and Soul” much more intriguing and real. However, I sure wished that we could understand Endre more. In spite of spending a lot of time with him, we never really feel what place he comes from. The decision of not bringing his disabled arm into the narrative might be a good choice but there’s hardly anything that makes us really latch onto him. Other than the young butcher, both the hot psychologist & his lunch friend do not give any real depth to him.
In spite of all the strangeness & unsettling moments, Enyedi’s vision is one of the most original romances of the year. It will most definitely cater to everyone looking for the least bit of human connection. Bizzare, beautiful and awkward to an extent of charming you to the bone, “On Body and Soul” is one for the heart.