The evolutionary 2020 broke us down into essentials: the flesh we are made of, the dreams we inhabit, the lives we lead within our beating hearts when restricted and confined. Starved of presence, relating, and touch. The immovable end game that is our mortality. On Body And Soul was made for this year. In the way scriptures were made for a particular time in history, and for all times, at the same time. It is a holy text of cinema. And if you have never crossed paths with it, this is your moment at the crossroads.
Ildikó Enyedi‘s macrocosmic masterpiece, her first feature in 18 years, came my way when I was promoting films in London. The Hungarian 2017 Golden Bear Berlinale winner made what I did for a living seem like a priestly service, summoning the public to come into the auditoriums and witness the divine. For this, I was deeply grateful, as I was continually observing how beauty and excellence easily slip through the programming cracks without careful curation, lost to broader audiences. The overproduction of the mediocre suffocating the outstanding; the bar lowered for the spectator in some strange meta-narrative ritual of engineered collective oblivion.
On Body And Soul, by its very existence, transmigrates this trajectory. Which is also its base storyline. The transmigration of one’s soul in a dream, in order to be with the beloved, in the flesh. Going to sleep, to be alive.
The key to its mesmerising, bloodied expression, its relentless turbulence underneath an almost monochrome cinematic landscape, lies in absolute intelligence of juxtaposition. The subtlety of easily translatable series of everyday human transactions becoming instantly poetic when touched by deep sensual interactions.
Mária (Alexandra Borbély), a shy, young meat quality inspector is newly hired by a slaughterhouse, and it soon becomes clear that her behaviour, on the autistic spectrum, makes other workers uncomfortable, and unhappy, as she keeps her ship tight. Although mild-mannered and soft spoken, her awkwardness is read as snobbery. The only one with compassion to the tightly wound enigma of Mária is Endre (Géza Morcsányi), the slaughterhouse’s middle-aged financial officer, who watches her carefully while she makes sure to side-step the shadow of the building she stands under in the sunlight, on her lunch break, as if not to undo a spell. Endre has mysteries of his own, one of them his paralysed left arm, and a turbulent, promiscuous history with women, which we can empathically comprehend, but never get the background of. Subdued, and perfectly formed, this story only offers what we can find for ourselves, each actor a highly attuned instrument to the conductor, hitting with astonishing precision every hidden emotional note.
Soon, both Mária and Endre start dreaming the same dream, a tender image of a pair of deer in the frozen forest befriending each other in search for food, falling slowly in love. An inverted celestial mirror to the bleak everyday drill at their workplace, the heartbreaking routine of sweet bovine beings being torn apart by machines, graceful until their last drawn breath.
Endre tries to befriend Mária, and although his progress is slow, and met with her initial resistance and series of faux pas, he is making a difference that he is not aware of, as every night she practices their daily interactions with Lego dolls, trying to make her words work in what seems to be her regular symbolic space of play, before going to sleep, and dreaming a dream of being a deer.
Their free fall into love is equally accelerated and interrupted by a bizarre incident of the missing mating spray at the slaughterhouse, a buxom psychologist (Réka Tenki) called in to investigate the mental and emotional background of each employee, a cocky new arrival (Ervin Nagy) with a way with the ladies, a cuckolded older man with an ax to grind, and a world-wise grande dame (Itala Békés), in existential disguise as a lowly slaughterhouse cleaner, who has words of advice to Mária on the essence of seduction:
This is such a storm of a tale, a witty, warm, uncompromising weaving of the magical and the mundane, that to reveal more is to somehow desecrate our own inner journey to its end, and the heart pilgrimage of its inhabitants, one quietly understanding how to touch, the other, patiently, how to feel.
What I do guarantee is that it will release you of that painful knot of grief we carry in our chests, at least for a long moment, like storms do, in their aftermaths.
Author: © Milana Vujkov