Be2Can Review: ‘On Body and Soul’ a Dreamy Hungarian Romance

Be2Can Review: ‘On Body and Soul’ a Dreamy Hungarian Romance

Two lonely souls from the fringes of society find each other through most unconventional means in On Body and Soul (original Hungarian title: Teströl és lélekröl), which has been brought to Prague courtesy of the Be2Can Film Festival and is currently screening with English subtitles at Kino Lucerna.

Eclectic Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi might be best known to international audiences through her enchanting 1989 film My Twentieth Century, but its been 18 years since the release of her previous theatrical feature, Simon mágus

Her latest film, On Body and Soul, won the Golden Bear earlier this year at the Berlin International Film Festival and was recently selected as Hungary’s official submission to the 2018 Academy Awards. It might be a career highpoint. 

And it’s a brilliantly-directed, and surprisingly poignant, study of two outsiders and slaughterhouse employees who share a most unusual bond: a dreamworld that intimately connects them even though their waking lives remain rigidly isolated. 

Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is the company’s long-time financial director, with a crippled left arm that contributes to a ruffled disposition. After numerous relationships over the years that have resulted in an adult daughter, he has resigned himself to a twilight of loneliness.

Mária (Alexandra Borbély) is in many ways his polar opposite. The new quality inspector at the slaughterhouse, she’s a social outcast who can barely have a conversation with her colleagues,  is obsessed with order and rigidly follows the rules. 

But they share a most unusual connection, which is revealed after separate interviews with a corporate psychiatrist (Réka Tenki) following an incident in which “mating powder” has been stolen from the company: the previous night, they discover that they have shared the same dream. 

And they continue to share the same dream, vividly realized on the screen in gorgeous wintery nature photography from cinematographer Máté Herbai that charts the relationship between two deer, a possible parallel to their protracted relationship in reality. 

In what might be a caricature of autism in a lesser film, Borbély comes to dominate On Body and Soul in a carefully measured performance that draws our sympathy despite its chilly exterior. Her climactic scenes are deeply and unexpectedly moving. 

While it works both as dry corporate drama and deadpan comedy (and induces a number of laugh-out-loud moments), On Body and Soul ultimately becomes an unconventional, and surprisingly affecting, romance. 

Despite being set in a slaughterhouse, with brief scenes of cattle being killed (offscreen) and their carcasses graphically separated (onscreen), the film never feels exploitative; the animal scenes are thoughtfully and even poignantly handled, to match the film’s human drama. 

A disclaimer at the end of the movie informs that while the scenes are real, no animals were harmed for the making of the movie; the filmmakers instead captured the day-to-day operations of an actual slaughterhouse.

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