AN UNUSUAL relationship story is the centrefold for On Body and Soul, a slow, quiet and likeable adult drama from Hungary that succeeds largely to its status as an often imagery-driven piece.
When the film begins, we see the shot of two deers wandering in a snowy forest. A random shot to start a film about human love but one with a distinctive twist.
It transpires that this is a dream that Endre (Geza Morcsanyi) has. He is a middle-aged man who works in an abattoir alongside a younger and socially inept woman, Maria (Alexandra Borbely).
During a series of evaluation tests the workers undergo after a theft in the workplace, a psychologist discovers the unusual coincidence that Maria has the same dreams that Endre has been having.
As the film progresses, the two begin an unusual relationship that could be the making or the breaking of any future they may have together.
Upon watching this film, a Golden Bear winner and the submission by Hungary for next year’s Academy Awards, one feels reminded of directors like Ingmar Bergman or Apichatpong Weerasethakul with this imperfected but original examination of human desire.
It is a film that works at its best with its exploration of life in the slaughterhouse, gruesome but handled appropriately. Director Ildiko Enyedi documents a cow being led to its grim fate, placing the camera directly into its eyes before showing us the realities of the workplace.
It is is only shown in the first half and yet, she does not patronize the audience in obscuring what happens and gives an insight into a discomforting aspect of life but from the comfort of a cinema seat.
The contrast of such gore regarding animals could not be more apparent with the recurring sights of deer in forests, photographed with such exception by Mate Herbai that stand as some of the more beautiful shots this year.
It is a film that at times depicts the beauties of life alongside the ugliness of societal choices, particularly an uncomforting and fear-inducing image near the end but with careful sensitivity.
The evaluation scenes are also a key highlight of the film, examining the difference in performance of Endre and Maria. He appears shy and is involved in several awkward moments, notably when he is caught out apparently ogling the attractive examiner, whilst Maria’s test is dominated by her openly photographic memory.
A subplot involving the investigation of the theft appears not as intriguing as it should but the progressive detailing of the lives of the two lead characters retain our interest thanks to their restraints and innocent demeanors. There is a curiosity as to what the future holds given the unconventional actions of the two and there are moments in the film which are simply mesmerizing.
It will appeal mainly to those used to arthouse cinema, but On Body and Soul is a respectable drama that, like White God and Son of Saul, continues to justify the position of contemporary Hungarian cinema as just as brave and daring as it is welcome.