On Body and Soul – movie review

Love in the slaughterhouse? On Body and Soul is a quirky drama about an unlikely romance between two lonely employees in a Budapest abattoir. The film won the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival; but it’s an art-house film that will have limited interest to a broader audience.

Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is the taciturn financial director of the abattoir. In his mid-fifties, he leads a life of solitude. His arm has been left paralysed following a stroke. Maria (Alexandra Borbély) is the new quality control officer who commences work at the abattoir. She is also fairly quiet and reserved. But shed comes across as aloof, and seems to suffer from OCD. She’s not exactly popular with her co-workers. Endre tries to strike up a conversation with her over lunch at the staff cafeteria, but it’s an awkward encounter.

The theft of some pharmaceuticals from the company’s sick bay leads to a police psychologist coming to question the employees. But some of her questions are intrusive and personal as she asks about their sexual behaviour. Endre is indifferent to these questions, but Maria is a little shaken. However, slowly an affair develops between these two reclusive people. They also come to realise that they seem to have been sharing the same dream in which they are deer frolicking in a snow-covered forest. This adds a quirky and surreal touch. These dreams hint at some deeper spiritual connection.

The two central performances are solid, and the actors bring these flawed characters to life. This is the first film for Morcsányi, who is the director of one of Budapest’s largest publishing houses. Borbély has mostly worked in comedies but she delivers a nuanced dramatic performance here as the stoic Maria. She shows little emotion throughout the film.

This unconventional love story serves up a meditation on the nature of desire and existence. It’s the fifth feature film for Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi, who began her career as a concept artist. This is her first film since 1999’s Simon The Magician. She has directed a couple of short films and a television series in the interim though. Her direction is slow and leisurely, and she employs a dead pan approach, reminiscent of Aki Kaurismaki.

The film provides plenty of graphic detail about the grisly business of the slaughterhouse. The film crew actually shot some footage inside one of Budapest’s largest abattoirs, which lends a sense of authenticity to the material. But the brutality of the opening sequences when cattle are killed offers a stark contrast with the quirky romance at the centre of the story. These early scenes are not for the squeamish. Enyedi’s approach to these scenes gives us a dramatic juxtaposition. She draws a comparison between the disconnect humans feel in social relationships and the disconnect we feel for the animal kingdom.

Enyedi has a minimalist style, complemented by the cool, crisp cinematography from Mate Herbai (The Investigator). The characters are often framed in doorways.

I must admit though I found it all a bit dull and uninvolving.

Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Géza Morcsányi, Réka Tenki, Alexandra Borbély
Date: 10 May 2018
Rating: R 18+



Greg King

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