Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély, Zoltán Schneider
Watch On Body and Soul online in the UK: MUBI UK / iTunes
When Endre (Morcsányi) first lays eyes on Mária (Borbély), she’s stepping back into the shadows to avoid the sun, as it pervades the sky and briefly enlivens the slaughterhouse where they both work. He’s the company’s financial director; she’s starting her job as the new quality inspector. With his interest piqued, Endre sets about finding out who she is and why she’s here. Mária, on the other hand, is the kind of person for whom solitude is the norm, and she displays no desire for that to change.
Theirs is an unlikely and long-winded romance, but a romance nonetheless. Mária might be a social misfit who struggles to survive even the smallest of small talk without coming across more cyborg than human, and Endre might be a middle-aged bachelor with a disabled arm, yet they find common ground in their dreams. Not their aims and ambitions in life, but their dreams. Every night, they each dream of themselves as deer exploring snowy forests and drinking from streams – Endre the stag, and Mária the doe. They discover this connection, thanks to a handy plot device that never sticks out like the sore thumb it ought to because of the revelation it signals in their sad and directionless lives: no longer do they have to dream alone.
The strangeness of these two people and their burgeoning relationship is just one example of director Ildikó Enyedi’s interest in inexplicable human behaviour. Despite the brutality of the film – and it certainly doesn’t shy away from the normalised destructive force of human nature found in both the slaughterhouse and intimate relationships – it’s also playful and sporadically funny. Its humour derives primarily from the fallout of the characters’ human struggles. HR manager Jenö’s (Schneider) reluctant confession to a hilariously shameful crime and Mária’s attempts at becoming a functioning person are comedic highlights. In the end, the only conclusion that can be drawn is that we’re all so strange and the things we do so bizarre that perhaps there’s nothing strange about any of it at all.
The bond between the pair is at its most convincing when it’s tangled up with their peculiarities. Rather than feeling mawkish or quirky, these scenes are earned, and only serve to further develop the uncertain love we see blossoming. But cruelty and beauty go hand in hand in the world depicted here – one is never far away from the other.
On Body and Soul is the first feature Ildikó Enyedi has directed since Simon, the Magician in 1999. After winning the Grand Jury Prize at Berlinale earlier this year, one hopes we won’t have to wait 18 years for her next. With this, the director has managed to create a film of both harsh reality and warm compassion. Endre and Mária’s is a romantic tale like no other, in which the soul is valued more highly than the body. That this relationship, with its flights of fancy and poeticism, eschews artificiality, instead delivering a convincing case for empathy, is testament to the work of Ildikó Enyedi and her cast.
On Body and Soul is available to rent on MUBI UK.