An older man and a younger woman accidentally discover that, every night, they encounter each other in their dreams as a pair of deer. The premise of Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul sounds like the perfect recipe for rom-com cheesiness, yet it’s anything but.
At first astounded, the couple draw closer together as their metaphysical relationship develops into a yearning for something more tangible, all the while overcoming all sorts of obstacles and misunderstandings. This is a Berlin Golden Bear winner however, and naturally On Body and Soul is nothing of the sort. While the events that bring together slaughterhouse manager Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and meat inspector Maria (Alexandra Borbély) are relatively predictable, Enyedi’s quirky and understated direction, and meticulous attention to detail, make this a highly original and enjoyable watch.
Underpinning everything is a deliciously ambiguous atmosphere of mysticism, embodied in the couple’s unexplained – and gorgeously shot – primordial dreams and the soundtrack of bells jingling delicately in the wind. In this sense the film has something in common with the work of Kieslowski, though without achieving quite the same grandeur. Above all, it is the precise details of the story – the very specific sense of time and place – that make On Body and Soul a unique work of art.
For example, rather than being set in a run of the mill modern office, Maria and Endre’s romance takes place in a slaughterhouse. And having chosen such a distinct setting, Enyedi opts to portray the process of turning a cow into meat with such cutting directness that – for those who still enjoy their steaks – thoughts of vegetarianism are impossible to avoid. Though the exact meaning of the film’s setting is never spelled out, there are certainly parallels to be drawn between the protagonists’ stunted emotional lives and the harsh, sanitised and unfeeling environment of the abattoir.
Both Morcsányi and Borbély play their roles to near perfection. The former is convincing as a decent but jaded man who, still single and without rungs left to climb on the slaughterhouse career-ladder, has resigned himself to making do with life’s little comforts. Borbély is even better, playing eccentric meat inspector Maria with such – if one permits the oxymoron – natural awkwardness that one truly feels for her as she tries to use a mobile phone, put on makeup, or compliment someone for the very first time in her life. A minor but competent supporting cast fills the rest of the roles nicely, from suspicious office shrink Klára (Réka Tenki) to Endre’s sleazy colleague Jenö (Zoltán Schneider).
With their sense of boundlessness and unlimited freedom, the dream sequences – in which a deer and a doe sprint through trees, sip water from a gurgling stream and nuzzle each other lovingly – are a highly effective foil to Maria and Endre’s repressed personalities. They are also the poetic high point of Enyedi’s otherwise highly enjoyable – if slightly lightweight – take on the romantic drama.
Maximilian Von Thun | @M3Yoshioka