Revisiting old classics, discovering hidden gems and exploring the contemporary movie scene: every month, Kafkadesk’s CineClub brings you new insights and expert film reviews of the greatest treasures of Central European cinema. This week: On Body and Soul (2017), by Ildikó Enyedi.
Following an almost decade-long pause in her career, Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul comeback movie startlingly explores the controversial themes of sexuality, emotional intelligence and dreams through a uniquely metaphorical story.
With many years of experience in her belt, Ildikó Enyedi indisputably belongs to the narrow circle of experienced Hungarian romantic drama directors. On Body and Soul, nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 2018, brought her career on the rugged path of international fame and indisputably established her name, once and for all, in the minds of Hungarian movie-goers.
While Pieces of a Woman, the Hungarian Netflix attraction of 2020, features well-known American actors and was filmed in English, On Body and Soul relies on domestic talents and was produced in original Hungarian language. The common ground between the two movies, both among the most internationally well-known Hungarian films today, is the natural, slow-paced and abstract portrayal of personal dramas unfolding in people’s everyday lives.
How to learn to love someone?
Rather than sketching an eventful story-line, Enyedi focused on emphasizing the behavioral integrity of the main characters by presenting their attitudes on love, relationship and emotions.
Set in a cattle slaughterhouse, Maria (Alexandra Borbely), the quiet, cold-eyed yet rather childish and autistic-like quality controller and her colleague, Endre (Morcsányi Géza), the middle-aged, polite but sour and lonely financial director, realize they share the same dream every night as they meet as two deer in the forest and fall in love.
Both protagonists share an introvert attitude, but hail from two very different mental backgrounds: the mentally-ill Maria, who has never experienced the beauty of love and sexuality before, instinctively goes through the learning process to develop her emotional intelligence from scraps; while Endre, the jaded but veteran in the field of relationships, awkwardly courts the lady.
To portray the individuality and similar attributes of the characters, Enyedi created both protagonists with handicaps. While Maria’s psychological disorder and faint self-expression makes her an alien in society and poisons her emotional life, Endre doesn’t have any mental illness, but a physical disorder in the form of a paralyzed left arm which contributes to his isolation among men.
On Body and Soul: A cavalcade of metaphors
The core strength of the film is the cumulative plethora of metaphors, replete with symbolic comparisons that adds to the artistic element. The title itself denotes the unification as two essential components of love that complement one another.
Ildikó Enyedi masterly operates with steady and natural shots, especially during the highly realistic animal slaughter scenes and the gripping silent dreams where Maria and Endre meet in the forest in the form of a deer.
On Body and Soul is a courageous experiment by Enyedi to show how broken and unusual individuals experience love, emotions and relationships among ordinary people. Two “misfits” placed in a slow-paced and oneiric story-line looking for odd ways to open up to each other.
By Bence Janek