ON BODY AND SOUL

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Ildiko Enyedi

Stars: Geza Morcsanyi, Alexandra Borbely, Zoltan Schneider, Reka Tenki, Zsuzsa Jaro.

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Love in the abattoir? This is a quirky drama about the unlikely romance that develops between two lonely employees in a Budapest abattoir. The film won the prestigious Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival, but it is an art house film that will be of little interest to a broader audience.

Endre (played by Geza Morcsanyi) is the taciturn financial director of the abattoir. In his mid-fifties he leads a fairly quiet life preferring a life of solitude. His arm was left paralysed following a stroke. Maria (Alexandra Borbely) is the new inspector and quality control officer who commences work at the abattoir. She is also a fairly quiet and reserved person and comes across as aloof and reserved and she also seems to suffer from OCD. She is not exactly popular with her co-workers. Endre tries to strike up a conversation with her over lunch at the staff cafeteria, but it is an awkward encounter.

The theft of some pharmaceuticals from the company’s sick bay leads to a police psychologist coming to the abattoir to question the employees, but some of her questions are intrusive and personal as she asks about their sexual behaviour. Endre is indifferent to these questions, but Maria is a little shaken.

However, slowly an affair develops between these two reclusive and shy people. They also come to realise that they seem to have been sharing the same dream in which they are deer frolicking in a wintry snow-covered forest. This adds a quirky and surreal touch to the material. These dreams hint at some deeper spiritual connection between the pair.

The two central performances are solid, and the actors bring these flawed characters to life. This is the first film for Morcsanyi, who is the director of one of Budapest’s largest publishing houses. Borbely has mostly worked in comedies but she delivers a more nuanced and dramatic performance here as the stoic and reserved Maria. She shows little emotion throughout the film.

This unconventional love story from Hungary serves up a meditation on the nature of desire and existence. This is the fifth feature film for Hungarian director Ildiko Enyedi, who began her career as a concept artist. This is her first film since 1999’s Simon The Magician. She has directed a couple of short films and a television series in the interim though. Her direction is slow and leisurely, and she employs a droll and dead pan approach that is reminiscent of Aki Kaurismaki.

The film gives us plenty of graphic detail about the grisly business of the slaughterhouse, as the film crew actually shot some footage inside one of Budapest’s largest abattoirs, which lends a sense of authenticity to the material. But the brutality of the opening sequences when cattle are killed offers a stark contrast with the quirky romance at the centre of the story. These early scenes are not for the squeamish. Enyedi’s approach to these early scenes gives us a dramatic juxtaposition. She draws a comparison between the disconnect humans feel in social relationships and the disconnect we feel for the animal kingdom.

Enyedi has a minimalist style, which is complemented by the cold, clinical and crisp cinematography from Mate Herbai (The Investigator, etc. The characters are often framed in doorways.

I must admit I found it all a bit dull and uninvolving.

★☆

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