Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Ildikó Enyedi | Testről és lélekről (On Body and Soul)

by Douglas Messerli

Ildikó Enyedi (writer and director) Testről és lélekről (On Body and Soul) / 2017

Hungarian filmmaker, Ildikó Enyedi’s 2017 film, On Body and Soul—nominated for the Best Foreign Film for the Academy Awards is a rather problematic film, and certainly is not a movie that I might recommend to everyone. First of all, the location of the film is in an Hungarian slaughterhouse, which although it is kept clean and appears to have careful oversight and modern techniques (one of the central figures, Mária [Alexandra Borbély] has been recently hired as a temporary quality inspector), the film nonetheless does show convincing scenes of cows being slaughtered, and comments on the fact that some of its employees, and certainly visitors (including a policeman) might find it difficult to endure.
     Secondly, its central characters are not particularly appealing. Mária, as some critics have noted, appears to be autistic and is so precise in her behavior that, at moments she appears almost to be an automaton. If nothing else, the icy blonde wants little to do with her fellow employees, eating and standing apart from them, hardly ever fraternizing.
     Her boss, Endre (Géza Morcsányi) watches his employees out of a high window almost like a voyeur and, also, is more than a little stand-offish. If María seems to be mentally crippled, Endre has quite literally loss the use of his left hand. We never discover the causes of either of their afflictions—Enyedi is careful to keep their pasts a mystery—but we do realize that they are both inordinately shy and weary of human communication.
     On top of these difficulties, this pair soon discover something that is simply inexplicable: they have been unknowingly sharing the same dreams. A robbery from a medicine cabinet, which leads to calling in a company psychologist, alerts them to the fact, as she accuses them of collaborating to undermine her techniques. Between themselves they corroborate the fact by writing down their most recent dream and handing the texts to one another: they match.
      Although beautifully filmed, the dreams are certainly not very impressive. In all of them, Endre is an antlered deer and Mária a doe, who together simply are foraging in a snowy forest, finding a few leaves on which to nibble, and drinking from a small lake and stream. The only contact between them occurs as they touch noses or briefly interlock their heads. There is no mating, no sudden movements, and no violence—so different from the world in which they work.
      Obviously, their interlocking dreams brings them together, particularly since it appears as an almost mystical-like experience not able to be explained (in fact, to the psychologist they admit they have collaborating, just to quiet further speculation and observation). Yet at the same time these two have been so completely maimed by previous relationships, that they both pull away, and when they do try to get together, the places they have once inhabited are now empty and quite meaningless. Even Endre’s formerly favorite restaurant is empty and the service is similarly rudimentary. Perhaps, we later learn, he had to many women, and she loved one, unforgiving man, too much.
     In an even odder development, Mária, after seeming to reject Endre’s advances, attempts to maim herself by cutting the same arm which Endre has lost. The visual images of blood and possible suicide recall the film’s early images of the innocent beasts’ deaths. But a sudden telephone message from Endre saves her, and the film ends with the final sexual encounter that seems to have been missing from the deer dreams that both have long shared.
     Finally, there is mutual satisfaction, and the two troubled animals can simply fall to sleep, with Endre’s maimed hand firmly wrapped around Mária’s torso. The two have finally found a way to break out of the cold forest’s embrace and move into a deeper world of human love.

Los Angeles, February 21, 2018

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