On Body and Soul, the first feature in nineteen years from Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi, debuted at the 2017 Berlin Film Festival, where it was awarded the prestigious Golden Bear, the festival’s top prize. It will go on to compete as Hungary’s entry to the 2018 Academy Awards, completing an emphatic return for a director who has been left in the wilderness since her last feature, Simon, the Magician (1999).
In that time, Enyedi completed scripts for several films, but she was unable to secure funding for any of them. Her emphatic return with On Body and Soul will hopefully mean the director never faces such difficulties again, for she has re-emerged with one of the most original, expressive films of the year.
At its heart, On Body and Soul is a tentative love story between two people, Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and Mária (Alexandra Borbély), who find out that they share the same dreams; simple, tranquil dreams in which they are both deer exploring a wintry forest. In the waking world, they work in an abattoir in Budapest, but despite their burgeoning romance – catalysed by their shared subconscious experiences – they are unable to articulate their feelings for each other.
The difference between the real world and their dream world is elegantly presented. The film opens in the snowbound forest, the camera tracking the two deer closely. The images of this frosted Eden are beautiful, but they are not explained. Instead, their tranquillity is left to wash over us; they speak of how simple it is to just be.
In contrast, the world that Endre and Mária inhabit is violent and full of cynicism, the walls splashed with the blood of slaughtered livestock and the air cut by the remarks of co-workers who are quick to judge. Mária has an uncanny memory but finds it difficult to navigate the social structures that most people take for granted, so she is outcast by her peers.
In some of the film’s most poignant moments, Mária rehearses conversations with Endre using salt and pepper shakers and, later, children’s toys as substitutes. The removal of an arm from the toy representing Endre – whose left arm is completely paralysed – is a subtle indication that despite her emotionless demeanour, she is more perceptive and empathetic than anyone around her.
This is the sort of scale on which their relationship plays out. No grand declarations across a crowded room, no breathless embraces, just fleeting moments where they take a step forward together or, just as frequently, another one backwards. An epic miscommunication towards the end of the film leads to a shocking climax.
The imagery of On Body and Soul is frequently poetic, and is filmed with a patience that complements the tranquillity of that snowy forest. A delicate soundtrack, including music from Laura Marling, finishes a film that is at once cruel, heartfelt, and implacable. It is a rare thing: a dream that can be relived over and over again.
Original title: Teströl és lélekröl Country: Hungary Language: Hungarian Year: 2017 Director: Ildikó Enyedi Writer: Ildikó Enyedi Starring: Alexandra Borbély, Géza Morcsányi Runtime: 116 minutes