Movie Review

On Body and Soul (2017) by Ildikó Enyedi

Original Name: Testről és Lélekről

Director: Ildikó Enyedi

Runtime: 116 minutes

Language: Polish

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Ildikó Enyedi: born in 1955 in Budapest. She studied Economics and Filmmaking at the University of Budapest and later in Montpellier, France. In 1990 she founded her own production company, the “Three Rabbits Studio”, for which she has since worked as a screenwriter and director. Alongside this, she teaches filmmaking at the University of Budapest.

“I just had a very strong wish to make a film about this. About people sharing nothing on the surface, but all the passion and longing is underneath. [] and I swear I don’t have any idea how this idea of the shared dreams came. I just wanted to put them in a situation that they can’t ignore, where they are really forced to do something about it and not continue their life as it was beforehand. I just really followed them and wrote down what they were doing.”

On Body and Soul begins with two deer navigating in a whitest snowy forest, as they notice each other and their noses gently touch. What unfold next is a strange, offbeat but at times grounded tale about two people who share the same dream in a manner of a lucid dream. And like any lucid dream, the film benefits from its free-form, often magical-realism touch. The director Ildikó Enyedi returns to cinema after 18 years, but she commands all the frames effectively. Like the concept between body and soul, this film uses a lot of parallel pairings: between human and livestock (most evidently in its slaughterhouse settings), dream and reality, internal feeling and physical mean. How one contrasts the other and how they eventually meet. The film further reflects that theme through the characteristics of the main leads: Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is a man with a crippled hand, and the film hints on his sexual impotency, and his screen partner, Maria (the magnificent Alexandra Borbély) as a socially awkward quality inspector who doesn’t understand emotions. Both are disabled in some ways, but their connection goes beyond the limits of the physical body. More than anything, On Body and Soul shines on the way it displays the tender fragility of human connection.

There’s one factor that I only picked up this second time around. It’s the way the film addresses sexual desire (or the lack thereof). The event that kicks the main plot into gear comes from the investigation of a missing “mating powder” for cattle, the psychological questionnaire touches on many sexual questions (and those inappropriate leering from Endre), his best friend’s frustration at his wife’s constant cheating. The film even gives their sex act at the end as the way they overcome their initial hesitation of connecting with other people (or is it the film implies that it’s finally where the soul meets body?). The way On Body and Soul shots their characters, likewise, never overly sexually suggestive. Even when one is nude, the camera constrains itself just like the characters “who close off that chapter long time ago”. As such, this strange film feels like a jab at the masculinity in crisis and this even stranger romance really takes flight not when they physically attract to one another, but when they share something together – their shared dream. The film’s extensive use of close-up on characters’ face, and even animals’ face (it’s reported that Enyedi framed the deer exactly the way she frames her human characters, which paid off nicely) help us to catch up with the subtle changes in their expressions.

Although at times exquisite and poetic, On Body and Soul remains a film with uneven plotting. Exceptional as a free-form lucid dream, when it’s taken a form it unfortunately loses its magical touch. It establishes and resolves the investigation subplot too quickly that it feels cliché and half-baked. The film also moves away from its dreams later on that it becomes more as a conventional character study. In particular; the film meanders a bit too much on Maria dealing with her real life (the film makes it clear with the closing lines “what did you dream last night? No, I didn’t dream) in the last third that while it showcases Borbély’s acting chop and makes Maria a totally relatable character (this is how Violet Evergarden should be), it pads the premise way too thin. In the end, while On Body and Soul can’t deliver the final blow as hard as it could, its unique ethereal sense still makes it a film worthy of its Golden Bear Berlin Prize. Close your eyes, think of this movie and there are many memorable moments that come directly to mind, like when the song “What He Wrote” (“I’m broken too… left me alone when I needed the light”) playing that perfectly captures Maria’s emotional state.

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