IIdikó Enyedi’s On Body and Soul focuses on the lives of two co-workers at an abattoir, quality control inspector Mária (Alexandra Borbély), a young woman of inhibiting shyness, who subsequently has no social awareness, but does possess an amazing command of her memory; and manager Endre (Géza Morcsányi), an intolerably lonely but rather kind-hearted older man. Every night, while asleep, they both dream of a stag and a doe roaming around a snowy forest.
The pair become cognisant of their shared unconscious through one of the most torturous pieces of plotting imaginable. Following the theft of ‘cattle mating powder’ from the abattoir’s medicine cabinet, the police require employees to undergo psychological well-being testing, in which a psychologist asks about the contents of their dreams. (Enyedi is having a laugh here. The police chief even asks why an abattoir would house such a substance.) Having verified that their dreams are shared, the pair begin to grow closer.
On Body and Soul is exquisitely photographed. Mária’s second appearance on screen is a brilliant bit of visual characterisation: we see her, as Endre does, stepping out from the sunlight and into the shadow cast by a pillar – shyness embodied in a moment. She often appears in establishing shots through reflections or artificial light, suggesting a distortion of the self. The interstitial shots of the dreams are haunting in the very best sense of that word; the slowness of the camera framing the deer in the falling snow is unforgettable.
However, be advised: moments in this film are unwatchable. There is footage of a working abattoir; and one moment so powerful that it caused me to break out in a cold sweat, which hasn’t happened to me in a cinema since seeing Mulholland Dr. (2001) projected. However, the balance between the anxious whimsy of Mária’s social interactions, the stunning stillness of the dreams, and the more brutal moments achieve a striking effect. Like the deer of the pair’s dreams, On Body and Soul will roam around my memory for a while yet.
Image: Film Press Plus