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European films

Film review: On Body and Soul – co-workers become dream lovers in Golden Bear winner

Hungarian director Ildikó Enyedi returns to the silver screen with a dreamy and poetic if baffling love story between two workers in an abattoir

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 16 August, 2017, 7:03am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 5:25pm

3.5/5 stars

A blend of the corporeal and the cerebral, Hungarian writer-director Ildikó Enyedi’s first film in 18 years is a mysterious, poetic and sometimes baffling piece.

Winner of the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, On Body and Soul starts with a picture-postcard shot of two deer in a snowy woodland. Yet shortly after we’ve taken in this harmonious scene, Enyedi is transporting us to a slaughterhouse where a cow is stunned and carved up. Such juxtapositions – beauty, cruelty – are par for the director’s course.

The set-up sees two isolated co-workers in the aforementioned abattoir connect in their dreams – seemingly as the deer that open the film – but struggle to communicate amid the daily grind of their lives.

Hungarian filmmaker Ildikó Enyedi on Berlin Golden Bear winner On Body and Soul, and her 18-year absence from cinema

Quiet loner Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is the Budapest meat company’s financial director; obsessive Mária (Alexandra Borbély) the incoming quality control inspector. Love over bloody carcasses? It’s hardly the stuff of a Richard Curtis film, which may be why Enyedi disappears into her characters’ slumbers.

After a psychiatrist (Réka Tenki) is brought into the workplace to evaluate the workers, it becomes clear that Endre and Mária dream the same dreams. It’s a bizarre notion, but one Enyedi embraces wholeheartedly – far removed, say, from the absurdist humour of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster , which considers the metamorphosis of humans to animals.

Best of Berlin 2017: On Body and Soul wins the Golden Bear, Aki Kaurismäki and Sally Potter

An indulgent running time (116 minutes) and a bloody finale will leave you spent, and perhaps turned off, but admiring of an ambitious filmmaker in full flow.

On Body and Soul opens on August 17

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