When the publicity tells you that a film is set in an abattoir, you might expect a horror film or at least a grittily realistic drama. On Body and Soul, written and directed by Hungarian Ildikó Enyedi, is anything but. Enyedi first came to prominence back in 1989 with her Cannes award-winning debut feature, My Twentieth Century about a pair of identical twins born at the start of the Twentieth Century who meet by chance on the Orient Express – think Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 but with women. Her variable output includes the English language Magic Hunter starring Martin Kemp and Sadie Frost as well as the 1999 film Simon Magus. Her defining characteristic as a director is anti-naturalism, although her favourite film from a female director is Agnes Varda’s Vagabond. These opposing impulses are on display here. Her drama, which snagged the top award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival, is an odd romance between the financial director of the abattoir, Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and the quiet quality control official, Mária (Alexandra Borbély) with whom he shares his dreams.
The premise may remind you of David Byrne’s 1989 song, ‘The Dream Police’: ‘everybody has the same dream/at different days of the week.’ (I have to confess, I’m a fan.) This pair has the same dream at the same time. In an attempt to act upon this phenomenon, they share a meal, awkwardly and then, finally, try to sleep together. Not have sex, but sleep. In the final third, the drama takes a darker turn, mirroring the bloodletting in the slaughterhouse.
After a naturalistic opening, the quirky comedy-drama that follows is something of an anti-climax. However, Enyedi is onto something. Society takes the concept of soul mates way too seriously; Enyedi treats it as something fantastical. Of course, the couple is charming but their link cannot possibly be real. However, as has often been pointed out by many a filmmaker, we like to believe in fantasy.
On Body and Soul is akin to a Charlie Kaufman film in sensibility, but without the misanthropy. There is a subplot involving an investigation into a break-in – Mária is barely troubled by this – but ostensibly the film is a two character movie, one has a deformed hand, the other is no fan of people, though has an attachment to a Laura Marling song. Check your expectations at the door. Expect some gruesome slaughter and enjoy the most unlikely dating movie to grace cinemas since The Big Sick.
On Body and Soul is out 22nd September!