Dir: Ildikó Enyedi | Drama | Hungary 2017 | 116 min · Colour
Nearly two decades after My 20th Century (1989), Hungarian auteur Ildikó Enyedi’s returns with an arthouse curio whose compellingly clinical visual aesthetic contrasts bolding with its central theme: love in a Budapest abattoir.
OF BODY AND SOUL is the latest in a string of slaughterhouse-set films: Maud Alpi’s Gorge, Coeur Ventre (2016) and Hassen Ferhani’s 2015 documentary Roundabout in My Head which portrayed the human element in an Algerian abattoir. But Enyedi’s animals are somehow more appealing than their human counterparts, although the striking similarities between man and beast are poetically crafted in this slow-burner with its sleek performances and economical dialogue.
The film opens in a forest where a doe and deer are seen nuzzling on the snowy lakeside. We are frequently reminded of the scene as the story unfolds. Enyedi then cuts to the abattoir where cows are silently led to slaughter peacefully unnaware of their fate and final moments which arrive with a clunk and a gush of blood on the tiled floor. Meanwhile, in the canteen it’s lunchtime for laconic finance director Endre (Géza Morcsányi) and he notices a newcomer to the queue in the shape of icy blond Maria (Alexandra Borbély), a quality control superviser.
The young woman sits silently in the sterile surroundings. Hers is a world of figures and data, and she has no emotional memory, due to a difficult past and a continuing need to return to her childhood therapist. Her much older boss Endre is avoidant but a great deal more forgiving in his approach to human connection. Tentatively, like the woodland animals, they begin a frosty friendship and discover they have the similar dreams at night. A robbery in the slaughterhouse means that Endre has to call in the services of a sultry shrink Klara (Réka Tenki) who gives each member of staff the psychological once-over but what she discovers is shrouded in enigma.
In the privacy of her room Maria is a disengaged porn watcher. She acts out her innermost thoughts with plastic toys still seems dissociated from her feelings, judging by her glacially vacant expressions. Enyedi maintains the film’s tension and cold intimacy of tone with a tinkling occasional score where graphic blood and bone images of the slaughterhouse are counterposed with the hyperrealism of Maria’s antiseptic home-life seen in tactile moments involving food and furry toys, and magic realist sequences in the snowbound forest, courtesy of Mate Herbai’s pristine soft and shallow focus visuals.
This story of two people attempting to discover the realm of the senses, at first apart and then together, threatens with its cold-eyed voyeurism, but the central characters remain too enigmatic to make the film a satisfying experience despite its stringent humour, striking aesthetic and impressive performances from the ensemble cast. MT
BERLINALE 9-19 FEBRUARY 2017 | GOLDEN BEAR WINNER