On Body and Soul
Alexandra Borbely, Morcsanyi Geza
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…a haunting film which has both subtlety and grace.
This sparse, affecting Hungarian feature has already earned an international reputation. It won the Golden Bear at Berlin earlier in the year and then it scooped the main prize at the Sydney Film Festival in June. At the presentation, the diminutive softly-spoken director/writer Ildiko Enyedi, like the characters in her film, seemed quiet and thoughtful rather than brash and triumphant. She has made nine features and is little known outside Hungary, but she is clearly a very careful filmmaker. On Body and Soul is a haunting film which has both subtlety and grace.
It is partly a love story. The two leads Maria (Alexandra Borbely) and Endre (Morcsanyi Geza) both work in a slaughterhouse. Slaughterhouses are a whole subject matter in themselves, of course. Like funeral parlours, they exist ‘hidden in plain sight’ in a culture that does not want to look too directly at the carnality and violence that underwrites its existence. Enyedi allows this dimension to come and go as befits the understated truth of the theme. At one point her camera follows a cow on the killing floor right up to the point of its mechanically-aided demise. Somehow that one shot of the forlorn uncomprehending beast staring out at us without rancour drills into your heart.
Maria –wonderfully played by the Czech actress Alexandra Borbely – is a timorous beastie herself. She seems too pale and frail for her job and the reason why she would want to work in such a place is one of the film’s many mysteries. The romance with the more confident Endre blooms very slowly and they have to battle against the jibes of their roughhouse work mates. However, they know they are destined to be together because, as they tell the in-house psychologist, they have exactly the same dreams. This device might seem contrived but what they dream about has a deeper resonance with the elusive core of the story.
The film never really explains itself and it is good that it doesn’t. You either connect to its wavelength or you miss out. It is pure arthouse in one way but, in another, it confirms the magical ability of good cinema to connect to, and celebrate, the human and animal world.