In the last few months it seems like I keep stumbling on movies about the underprivileged, the outsiders, the ridiculed, the ostracized and the marginal. All of which have been endearing, heart-warming, tastefully made and beautiful. Maudi, The Shape of Water and On Body and Soul, all belong to this category. As one of my friends put it, it’s the story of an individual struggling against impossible odds and winning, that’s so appealing in these movies.
On Body and Soul, one of this year’s five foreign movies nominated for Oscars has an added dimension to it. True to its name, it’s a mix of two parallel worlds: the world of wild animals running free in a magical landscape in parallel with the world of subjugated animals in a slaughterhouse being cut to pieces and bled out; the world of the mundane tasks at work and in life for people struggling with physical and behavioral disabilities in parallel with the transcendent world of dreams in forests and lakes, trees and snow.
Written and directed by Ildiko Enyedi, On Body and Soul has won the Berlin International Film Festival’s Golden Bear award, and its main actress, Alexandra Borbely has won the best actress prize in the European Film Awards.
The story is set in an urban slaughterhouse in contemporary Hungary. Endre, the director of the slaughterhouse tries to get to know Maria, a new quality control officer. The HR director complains that Maria is haughty and conceited, but Endre suspects her aloofness is a sign of shyness. Soon the audience finds out Maria is more than shy. She exhibits the anti-social behavior of an autistic person, as well as the extreme mathematical aptitude and memory of Asperger’s syndrome. Due to some creative writing Endre and Maria discover that they’re having the same dreams, in which Endre is a stag and Maria, a doe. They’re astounded. So are the two psychiatrists they talk to. One dismisses the idea outright, and the other thinks it’s some kind of a joke. But the common surreal world of their dreams brings the two together and gives them something to talk about in their waking world.
Enyedi juxtaposes subliminal scenes of the deer searching for food, drinking from a stream, running in the woods, staring at each other across a lake, and just sitting next to each other in a snowfall, with graphic scenes of cows being slaughtered and cut to pieces, copious amounts of blood spilling, staining aprons, hands and arms, blood being hosed and mopped.
And then there are the awkward interactions of Endre, kind, middle aged, with one dysfunctional arm, and Maria, young, zero social skills, nervous, reluctant even to make eye-contact. Each lives in a bubble, with Endre able to navigate his way around his bubble, and Maria desperately trying her best to learn to do so.
The development of the love affair that ensues is believable and tender. The souls come together despite the physical and psychological impediments. The souls connect in the world of cruelty against animals and humans alike. The souls bring together the bodies through the blood.
The pace of the movie is leisurely, the music spare, the sound effects compelling. The framing of each scene is meticulous and elegant, close-ups appropriately at times touching, and at others, jarring.
The only people I would not recommend this movie to are vegetarians and vegans.
But lucky for us carnivores this gorgeous movie is available on Netflix to enjoy.