Directed by Ildikó Enyedi
by Benjamin Leonard, Best Boy
On Body and Soul (R 116 minutes Hungary) is a Netflix release written and directed by the highly celebrated, but rarely funded, Ildikó Enyedi. Her feature debut My Twentieth Century won The Golden Camera at Cannes in 1989. Since then, she has only directed about five feature films and this is the first in eighteen years.
The film opens with some beautiful scenes of a stag and a doe foraging in a glen that is lightly covered with snow and then drinking from a small pond. Next, it cuts to a number of short scenes showing the various processes in a slaughterhouse; the cattle in their pens, being lead to the gate that holds them in place as they are killed, the bodies being placed on a hook and raised up so that they can be gutted and hosed off of the blood, shit and mud and then, finally, the pieces of meat are cut and cleaned of the extra fat and gristle so that they are ready to be consumed.
These scenes set us up nicely for the rest of the film. On Body and Soul is a story filled with some peace and beauty but also some starkly depicted pain and sorrow. Endre is the financial director of the meat processing plant. He is 50ish, divorced or a widower (it isn't explained), a bit of a loner outside of work and does not have the use of his left hand. From his office, he spies a youngish woman, Maria, who will be the new quality inspector. It's obvious from the start that she's a bit different. As she stands in the shade, waiting to start work, she inches slightly back to keep the toes of her shoes out of the sunlight. As the film progresses, we can assume that Maria has what the festival pamphlet calls Aspergers but the medical community has decided will be classified as Autism in the DMS. The other workers are made uncomfortable by her strange behavior and they ostracize her, but Endre makes an effort to get to know her.
After a strange crime has been committed at the plant, the police suggest that psychological evaluations be given to everyone who works there. Through this, Endre and Maria learn that they have been sharing the same dream for several weeks. She is the doe and he is the stag from the opening scene. This leads them to eventually attempt to have a relationship, but Maria is uncomfortable with anyone touching her, even someone she cares about.
On Body and Soul is equal parts comedy, tragedy, and romance. All of these facets are wonderfully portrayed by Géza Morcsányi and especially Alexandra Borbély. As someone who has struggled with some similar issues, I appreciated her portrayal of Maria. She was always outside of the group, but she would replay any interaction she thought had meaning later with toys or a salt and pepper set. When attempting to deal with her issues with being touched, there was a series of scenes where she was adapting to different tactile sensations and she stuck her hand in a pile of mashed potatoes. I can’t explain why, but this really struck a chord with me. The film has many moments like that. I can’t tell you why it was powerful. It just was.
While some of the scenes could be considered graphic, they are not exploitative but shown with honesty and, at times, downright breathtaking. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. On Body and Soul will be showing again at the Philadelphia Film Festival this Saturday, October 28th at 7 PM at Ritz East. Do yourself a favor and go see this on the big screen. You may never get the chance again, but it will be coming to Netflix soon.