Review: On Body and Soul / Testről és lélekről30 April 2018
CONTENT WARNING: mild discussion of gore, killing of animals
A story of two individuals navigating the complexities of emotions and intimacy, On Body and Soul (Testről és lélekről) is a moving film for anyone who has ever felt alone. Expertly weaving multiple layers of meaning together, Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi has created a masterpiece which reflects on the human condition within modern society. This film also made me uncomfortable—and so it should.
The film is set primarily in an austere slaughterhouse, admittedly unusual for a “romance.” The two protagonists, Mária and Endre, meet as professional colleagues in the slaughterhouse, and soon discover they share the same dreams. In these dreams, they are lovers who meet as deer in a forest. However, in the workplace Endre and Mária are like wounded deer, desperately trying to find meaningful connection. In the slaughterhouse, they witness daily the beheading of cattle in a quiet, almost ritualistic violence. The pools of blood seem out of place in these otherwise clean, mint-green-tiled rooms. A quote from Endre really struck me—“You can’t work here if you don’t feel sorry for them.” This really underpins the message of the film, that in order to survive in such a place, or in the world at all, you have to allow yourself to feel every emotion, including the painful ones. On Body and Soul constantly moves between mental and physical spaces; the dreamscape and the workplace. In one, love is a simple and pure refuge. In the other, there’s a constant struggle to overcome mental and physical wounds in order to love and be loved.
Mária is a multi-dimensional female character whose mysterious persona intrigues the viewer without falling back on worn-out tropes. Appearing cold in her interactions at work and thus becoming the object of some colleagues’ ridicule, Mária could easily be mistaken at first for a “weird loner girl” stereotype. However, Alexandra Borbely brings an incredible depth to the role, filling the screen with a quiet, magnetic presence as her character Mária undergoes a deep transformation through an emotional and sensual learning process.
On Body and Soul’s strength lies in both its compelling narrative and visuals, but ultimately is worth watching for the way Enyedi has beautifully captured the intricacies of her characters. If you prefer your love stories to be complex and a little unnerving, then this one is for you!
Please note: as a vegetarian/aspiring vegan/Person Who Is Very Sensitive, some scenes in this film were difficult to watch. Please keep this in mind if you intend on watching On Body and Soul, which is in cinemas now.