* * * 1/2
Making her first feature film for eighteen years, having spent them on other failed feature projects, directing television, and teaching at the University of Theatre and Film Arts in Budapest, Ildikó Enyedi won last year’s Golden Bear at Berlin and the Sydney Film Festival Prize with On Body and Soul, her touching, delicate, original and warm abattoir romance. It was also nominated for the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Sydney Film Festival Prize awards “courageous, audacious and cutting-edge” cinema. I’m not sure if On Body And Soul deserved its award on those grounds; neither the story-telling nor the technique employed is particularly radical. But the film is undeniably fresh; if it’s a rom-com, it’s unlike any you’ve seen.
It is, indeed, mostly set in an abattoir, where Endre, the financial director of the facility, has moved past any further hopes of love, and settled into a seemingly content life of routine, work, and a solitary evening existence. That is, until a new employee arrives – Mária (Alexandra Borbély) – who is so shy and awkward that she is likely on the spectrum of autism. When a minor crime occurs at the slaughterhouse, Endre and Mária discover a most unlikely bond.
There are certainly bold filmmaking choices on display. Endre is played by a gentleman named Géza Morcsányi, a theatre dramaturg who made his acting debut in this film – in the lead role – at the age of sixty-four. That’s pretty audacious. The film’s palette, gleaming with whites and clean shiny surfaces, is ironic and comforting, given that it mainly takes place in an abattoir. And almost the entire propulsion of the film’s emotional spine takes place sub-textually, behind the formal, guarded walls of Endre and Mária’s fragile psyches. So perhaps the film is, indeed, courageous and a little cutting-edge. Whatever. It’s heart-warming, uplifting, funny and different. And that’s more than enough.