On Body And Soul

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

On Body And Soul took home the Golden Bear
"There is a fragility and brittleness to this but also an underlying warm sweetness that might just melt your heart." | Photo: Courtesy Of the Berlin Film Festival

Body and soul is an enigmatic pairing - one word prosaic, the other poetic, one an indicator of mortality in all its glories and failings, the other metaphysical or, if you're less romantically or religiously inclined, mumbo jumbo. Writer/director Ildikó Enyedi is a believer and aims to convert us to her cause as she probes at the potential connection between the two main characters in her film, which won the Golden Bear at Berlin last year and is now on the hunt for Oscar glory.

An abattoir is about as bodily as you can get for a setting, cows heading off to meet their maker in a sterile environment, the workers red clothing almost unforgivably jaunty against the clinical setting - although I suppose they don't show the blood, of which animal lovers, be warned, there is quite a large quantity spilled. What does all this have to do with a doe quietly going about their gentle courtship in a snowy forest? Quite a bit, as it turns out, at least for abattoir finance chief Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and the plant's new quality inspector Maria (Alexandra Borbély) who discover they have a shared connection to the animals.

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Connecting in the real world is considerably more difficult. Endre is an easygoing sort whose chief emotional attribute seems to be calm. Maria is as different as can be, shy to the point at which you wonder how she got the job in the first place, she's also an obsessive perfectionist, who might well be on the autism spectrum, although that's never mentioned.

Enyedi, like Maria, isn't about to be rushed and her measured approach to her themes of isolation is likely to try the attention span of some viewers. In order to fully enjoy the film, you'll also need to buy into the central conceit regarding Maria and Endre's link to the deer - but it's certainly no bigger an ask than to accept Sally Hawkins' cleaner could fall for a fish man in The Shape Of Water.

The sedate pacing gives Enyedi room to slowly build the emotional weight of the film as Maria and Endre begin to form a tentative real-life connection. She uses all the various spaces of the film to great effect, sitting the pair at the very edges of the frame as they eat dinner, as though Maria couldn't escape backwards any further - later mirrored in the works canteen as Endre practically flees the frame. She also finds emotional contrast in the shadowy snugness of Endre's home, the idyll of the forest and the clinical coolness of the abattoir. There is a fragility and brittleness to this but also an underlying warm sweetness that might just melt your heart.

Reviewed on: 03 Mar 2018
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A slaughterhouse becomes an unlikely setting for romance.


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