On Body and Soul, Dir. Ildikó Enyedi│Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul’s almost pensive dramatic explorations of the relationships between the bodily and the ethereal begin in a particularly unusual and captivating manner. Instead of being greeted to human characters, we are met by two deer, caught in a kind of intimate tranquillity in a Hungarian winter wonderland that is almost hard to believe. One is a skittish doe, and the other is a proud stag whose white-tipped, horns bear the delicate weight of a layer of snow. Both look wet and bedraggled, but somehow Enyedi captures their movements and emotions in a manner that feels unmistakably touching and human as the two creatures reassure and respond to each other.
Before long, we are snapped out of our winter reverie, and cajoled into a warm summers day at an abattoir, where an almost mystically bright sun rains down, uniting all things in creation – even from the unsuspecting cow to the humble factory worker. Over the top plays a layer of strange, metallic Terre Handpan ringing and harp music, wrapping the whole scene in an incredibly affective, ethereal sensation.
The only person seeming to try to retreat from this universal communion is the mysterious Maria, who notices the sun touching her toes and retreats into the shade. She has the visible appearance of a reserved, deeply self-controlled young woman, with angular features, sleek blonde hair and a slightly frumpy way of dressing herself. She is the abattoir’s newest quality control officer, and whilst seeming to have obsessive-compulsive and autistic elements to her behaviour, she exudes an air of being a woman who is not for turning.
From a distant first-floor window, the abattoir’s self-titled “finance” director, a man whose both body and soul seem to have been quite literally shrivelled by the world around him. One arm hangs limp by his side from some unexplained pre-existing condition, and its muscles seemed to wasted away. His face is also slightly haggard and grey, and his mannerisms seem to suggest a sort of well-humoured despondency to the horrors of the microcosm he presides over.
These two quite equally positioned protagonists begin first as strangers – or even worse as suspicious adversaries, but that all changes when a psychological test at work reveals that they are both sharing the same dream, and they are not as alone as they both thought. There is in fact a sort of soul sphere in which they can be as close and as intimate at the stag and the doe that scamper through the dreamlike segments of the film. The only thing that stops them is often worldly or bodily restraints, like Maria’s aversion to bodily contact from just about anything.
That said, perhaps for the whole first hour of the film, Enyedi really does go to great lengths to linger on the features of these employees in a manner which seems almost misanthropic. She dissects their bodies in close ups, just as they viscerally carve up the cows (and by God these scenes are not for the faint hearted), and she hones in on their features in a way that often seems odd and unpleasant.
And even as they slowly begin to bond, the endearingly strange verbal exchanges these characters often share seem so absurd and tense, they would not be out of place in a Yorgos Latimos film. This sort of modern disconnectedness of our lives is also really reinforced by the fact that we repeatedly see characters filmed through transparent or channelling objects like windows or door frames in the film, forever boxing them off or keeping them separate.
At the same time, though, the transparent surfaces we often see Maria through also really lends her face an almost unreal quality as we see it as if it were a mirage. It is once again almost as though she is able to transcend the world her body finds itself in. On Body and Soul also gives off a very weird, supra-natural sense of visual unity, something achieved by its very carefully constructed, bright white, yellow and green colour palette. This effectively lends a sort of unifying, otherworldly aquamarine tinge to every scene.
All in all, then, On Body and Soul hammers home a very moving sense of the possibility for human communion in a tale that is full of off-kilter, tragi-comic existentialism. As such, Enyedi’s latest work becomes a really refreshing discussion of modern anomie and the almost spiritual, shared feelings that can still save us from feeling lonely. But it is never at all too heavy or moralistic in its discussion, and is one worth taking a punt on if you’re the kind of cinema-goer who likes to try something new.■
│In cooperation with│
On Body and Soul / Teströl és lélekröl│ Director: Ildikó Enyedi│ Screenplay: Ildikó Enyedi│ Camera: Máté Herbai│ Editing: Károly Szalai│ Music: -│ Cast: Alexandra Borbély, Géza Morcsányi, Réka Tenki│ Producer: Mónika Mécs, András Muhi, Ernő Mesterházy│ Production Company: M&M Film KFT│Country: Hungary│ Year: 2017 │ Running Time: 117 min.│ International Sales: Films Boutique │ Festival: Transilvania IFF 2017│