FILM REVIEW: ON BODY AND SOUL (2017)
"On Body and Soul" directed by Ildikó Enyedi is nothing short of a modern day, magic realist masterpiece. Not only was I lucky enough to view this film on the big screen at the Sydney Film Festival in 2016, but I was also serendipitously sitting next to Margaret Pomeranz who went on to award to film the Sydney Festival Prize a couple of nights later. Name drops aside, "On Body and Soul" has quickly become a pivotal film experience for me, influencing and connecting me to themes that resonate within myself and my work.
Themes that interest me and inspire my curiosity generally have something to do with connection, isolation and romanticism (in the pastoral, Wordsworthian sense) in an increasingly disconnected world. I am fascinated with the paradox of connection found through disconnection and "On Body and Soul" executes this feeling in a perfect way.
Set in an abattoir in Budapest, two introverted co-workers Endre and Maria, form an unlikely connection after they realise that they share the same recurring dream. In this dream they respectively appear as a Stag and Doe who slowly fall in love amongst the tranquil setting of a forest. The shared dream forces a connection that in other circumstances would not have happened as Endre suffers from a physical disability and Maria has a personality disorder akin to Aspergers. And so, a bumbling quiet and somewhat innocent love story begins to percolate within the stark and grim content of an abattoir.
Visually this film draws upon the juxtaposition os the natural and romantic settings of the forest with the sterile and seemingly awful context of an abattoir. We are shown softly fallen snow next to the imagery of the routine butchery of meat and flesh. this dichotomy plays to the name sake of the film exploring both the corporal and the spiritual, or the body and soul. However instead of creating thematic propaganda with reduces the abattoir scenes to barbarism of cruelty, Enyedi treats these scenes with care and respect, letting death breathe and exist thereby creating a quiet calm over the film.
And so it is in a similar way that Endre and Maria come together. They bumble and slowly court each other, misunderstanding intentions and indirectly affecting one another. Maria obsesses and acts out hypothetical conversations with dolls to ease her confusion. Whereas Endre ignores and feigns bravado to hide his own hurt and insecurity. When the two eventually connect it is absolutely unique, they discuss their joint dreams and begin sleeping over, dreaming in the same bed. Their relationship is delicate, tender, innocent and exists within a higher realms than conventual sexual relations. While is why when the two eventually consummate their relationship, a disconnection is felt and disappointment resonates.
The pacing of this film is also incredibly unique and plays to the pacing of the cinema of "Ma" (Hayao Miyazaki). "Ma" is Japanese for emptiness and within the film world "Ma" is used intentionally to take a step away from the non-stop action and instead, grow tension into a wider dimension. Think of the pacing of "Revenant" (Alejandro González Iñárritu) and “ The Stalker ” (Tarkovsky). "Ma can also be linked to Romantic poet, John Keats' theory of "Negative Capability" which expressed the importance of the empty and calm in oder to experience a greater truth. "On Body and Soul" utilises this specific pacing to create a completely unique world and refreshing way to perceive connection.
In this way, "On Body and Soul" remains one of my most important film experiences. The film showed me a new way to explore connection through one of the most widely used narrative devices,
a love story. By using unique pacing, visual metaphor and also pastoral romantic sensibilities, Enyedi has created a thoughtful and quietly provoking masterpiece, showing us that even amongst the most unlikely places, shared hopes and dreams can still be powerful enough to bring us together.