Review: On Body and Soul

Alexandra Borbély in On Body and Soul

On Body and Soul (Teströl és lélekröl) is a Hungarian film. It is one of the nominees for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film this year. The film is a strange and almost poetic love story. It’s laced with ethereal beauty and bloody gore.

A Forest Scene from On Body and Soul

The film opens in the forest where a stag and a doe walk together. It shifts to a slaughterhouse outside Budapest where Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is the financial manager and Maria (Alexandra Borbély) is the newly hired quality control expert.

The motif with the stag and the doe repeats again and again throughout the film. The viewers also get close to the cows that are about to be slaughtered. In the beginning, scenes in the slaughterhouse are bloody. It feels like one of those films that urge you to stop eating meat. That aspect of reality passed as the story went on.

Endre is an older man with an injured and useless arm. Maria is younger, and beautiful. They are both socially awkward, but particularly Maria. She’s precise about everything she does. She has no idea how to converse with people and shows little in the way of facial expression. She doesn’t like to be touched.

Endre and Maria each live in minimalist apartments where they have quiet lonely lives. Endre’s attracted to Maria. He makes an effort to talk to Maria at work, but it isn’t easy.

Because of a theft and a police psychologist who thinks she can solve a crime by asking everyone what they dream, Endre and Maria discover they’ve been dreaming the exact same dream every night. He’s a stag, she’s a doe, they eat and drink and stick close together in the forest.

Géza Morcsányi and Alexandra Borbély in On Body and Soul

They begin looking forward to talking each morning about their dreams. They inch into a relationship of sorts. Maria tries to figure out how to allow herself to be touched. She thinks Endre is beautiful and she wants to have sex with him. It doesn’t happen fast or easily.

The film is quiet, with almost no music. It’s filled with fascinating touches. Maria uses Lego figures to practice conversations in advance. She buys a phone so Endre can call her. She buys a stuffed animal so she can get used to being touched and touching. Endre doesn’t tell the police who was responsible for the theft at the plant because the man is his only friend.

Alexandra Borbély took home the European Film Award for Best Actress.  She’s fantastic as Maria, whose lack of outward emotional expression the film explores in many ways. The film, the lead actress, and the director have received several nominations and awards in Europe.

Ildikó Enyedi wrote and directed On Body and Soul. It’s her first film after an 18 year break. It’s an odd film, but lovely.

On Body and Soul is currently streaming on Netflix.

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