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FNE at Berlinale 2017: Review COMPETITION On Body and Soul

2017-02-11

BERLIN: Hungarian cinema seems to be on a winning streak after László Nemes’s Son of Saul taking a string of international prizes including the Oscar for best foreign film. Now Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul screens in the main competition in Berlin with a film that looks set to be another Hungarian international hit.

Enyedi established her reputation with her 1989 debut My Twentieth Century, which won the Cannes Camera d’Or for best debut.  While she has worked steadily in TV and documentaries  On Body and Soul is her first feature film in 18 years and audiences will welcome the return of this talented filmmaker.

An unusual love story set in a slaughterhouse in Budapest the film contracts beautiful, poetic images with brutal and bloody images of the slaughterhouse.  Maria played by Alexandra Borbély starts work as a quality controller at the slaughterhouse.  A shy young woman she is serious and lonely taking her job very seriously.  Her boss Endre played by Géza Morcsányi is also quiet and lonely.  Endre is attracted to the shy Maria who at first rebuffs his advances. Slowly they get to know each other and a relationship begins to develop.

Despite the action being set in a slaughterhouse we see a beautiful recurring visual image of a male and female deer together in the snow.  This image turns out to be a dream that the two shy lovers discover they share. The link is discovered by the company psychiatrist Klara played by Réka Tenki while she is carrying out a series of staff evaluations. With this strange link the bond between the lovers is sealed.  Their relationship takes on a strange and magical quality.   The contrast with the blood and sick-making images of the slaughterhouse where Maria and Endre spend their time and the shared images of their dreams could not be greater. DoP Máté Herbai deserves full marks for the film’s stunning images.

Here is an audience warning for animal lovers. The images of cows being stunned and slaughtered are real and visceral.  Blood spurts everywhere as the cow is beheaded and carved up. The film credits point out that while animals were harmed during the shooting this was part of the slaughterhouse daily working process and not created artificially just for the shooting of the film.  This seems to indicate that what we are looking at on screen is not some simulated killing but the real thing.  It is not for the faint of heart and if it is meant to convert audiences to a vegan diet it no doubt will succeed in many cases.

This is a beautiful story of two fragile people discovering emotions, tenderness and physical desire.  Once again Enyedi  has emerged on the scene with a unique film full of humour and all the fears we experience in opening ourselves up to another person as well as a reminder about how exhilarating it can be if you take the risk.  This is a welcome return for a special kind of filmmaker.

Body and Soul (Hungary)
Directed by Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Alexandra Borbély, Géza Morcsányi, Réka Tenki, Zoltán Schneider, Ervin Nagy, Itala Békés, Éva Bata, Pál Mácsai, Zsuzsa Járó, Nóra Rainer-Micsinyeis

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