On Body and Soul

in 67th Berlin International Film Festival

by Denise Bucher

Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi tells an idiosyncratic story about two loners who are secretly in love with each other. The film is full of lyricism and humor, free of all social conventions and extraordinarily beautifully shot.

A stag and doe wander through a snow-covered forest, looking for food. While taking a break by a stream, they caress each other with their noses. Cut. Cows, crammed into a truck, are offloaded and then butchered in a slaughterhouse. Bones are cracking and blood is spurting – it makes you never want to eat meat again. This slaughterhouse is the workplace of Endre (GézaMorcsányi). He is a finance controller and has been working there for years - a reserved man and not much of a talker. We see him standing in his window observing Maria (Alexandra Borbély), the new quality control inspector, as she crosses the yard. She is young, pretty, and peculiar. "She must either be a know-it- all or anxious", say two other men who are stealing glances at her, half amused, half intrigued. Just like the stag and the doe in the woods, the two males sniff this female who has just entered their territory.

The sixth feature film of Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi (61) tells a story about baffling human mating practices, focusing on two idiosyncratic characters who find each other only under the most complicated circumstances and only after taking many detours.

It’s a poetic, melancholy and above all funny story. Thanks to dark humor and two deadpan performances, this incredibly beautifully shot love story never slips into kitsch. Enyedi prevents her characters from looking like idiots, no matter how oddly they behave. Or how helpless they seem - because both of them have a disability: while Endre has a paralyzed arm, Maria is suffering from severe social phobias. Interacting with humans is hard for her. But, being aware of her deficit, she takes upon herself to practice. The night after Endre first tries to talk to her, she re-enacts the encounter on her kitchen table, a salt shaker playing the role of herself, a pepper pot representing Endre. If she has something important to say to him, she prepares the whole conversation in advance and sticks to her script, even if Endre's real responses doesn’t match up. Endre and Maria’s difficulties in communicating almost seem like a parody of the real life awkwardness between two normal people who are secretly in love with each other.

Enyedi shows her characters’ daily routine - work, lunch break, watching TV in the evening, going to bed. While Endre sticks to his routine for lack of alternatives, Maria follows her agenda compulsively. Just when you wonder where this all might lead, the police shows up, searching for a vial of bovine aphrodisiac stolen from the slaughterhouse. A sensual psychiatrist supports the investigation, interrogating every member of the staff with absurdly intimate questions. The big busted woman in her semi-transparent top holds sway over the males, but has no power over Maria.

Soon we learn that Endre and Maria are having the same dream each night - about a stag and doe wandering through snow-covered woods. Obviously, the souls of these two loners have found each other a long time ago. It’s just their bodies and minds that still lag behind. Animal mating practices are a lot simpler and more direct than those of humans.

Of Body and Soul thrives on the soft quirkiness of these idiosyncratic figures who don’t fit in with any social cliché. Endre, who is older and had many women, presumably retired from a wild past and seems almost embarrassed to fall in love again. Maria on the other hand, innocent and emotionally as well as sexually inexperienced, is scared of love because of her anxieties. But the fact that they keep having the same dreams forces them to open up to each other, even if their first impulse is to shy away. Watching them take the risk and opening up is a great pleasure.

© FIPRESCI 2017

Edited by Yael Shuv

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