‘On Body and Soul’: The Dream and Reality of Love

Rating: 4/4

Have you ever been astounded to discover someone else had conjured the same dream as you? Dreams, those whimsical episodes of our mind always feel so, singular. Billions of lifetimes spinning round at once, it’s no surprise if one of those billions siphons from the same dream weaver. But what if two people experience identical dreams at once…while telepathically communicating too? What if those two physically met? If you ever encountered that “like mind,” that other ear at the end of the string and can, you would either be frightened, intrigued, or in love. On Body and Soul expects all three.

The film begins black, with rising eerie synths, bells, and rattles, as if the subjects have just closed their eyes. We see deer, a stag and a doe, walking in the snow-covered woods. The stag attempts to touch the doe, the doe is uninterested. The deer leaves, a wide shot of the woods is left. That wide shot is match cut to hooves of cattle on a bloody floor.

Ildikó Enyedi, the Hungarian auteur, adores juxtaposing and matching dreams with reality to question the metaphysical. Her two subjects, Edre (Géza Morcsányi) and Mária (Alexandra Borbély), work at a slaughterhouse. Edre is older, possibly in his late 50’s, cold, slightly “pervy,” with a lame left arm. Mária is younger, possibly early 30’s, brutally honest, socially awkward, with a sharp memory. Both are damaged people. Edre, physically maimed, Mária, mentally vulnerable. The two make the stag and the doe. 

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The physical meeting between the two is initiated by theft. Mating powder, used for the bulls in the slaughterhouse, has been stolen. An investigation is opened. And as part of that investigation, a psychologist is brought in to perform psych evals with questions pertaining to sex and dreams (as only the best questions should). In separate sessions, Edre and Mária reveal their shared fantasy. Thinking it’s a practical joke the two are called in. We never see the psychiatrist or Edre and Mária’s reaction to this revelation. Instead, the scene abruptly cuts to Edre and  Mária waiting for a train. Enyedi abruptly ends scenes, without conclusion, throughout the film, as if the reality doubles as the dream. 

The fact that love could be born from a slaughterhouse, also demonstrates Enyedi’s gift for mixing the whimsical with reality. The slaughter scenes, as cows with plaintive looks in their eyes are decapitated, are not for vegans or vegetarians. We watch as hooves, body less, are racked aimlessly in the air and unable to touch the ground. While dreams are confined to the impulses of the brain, touch inhabits reality. Both Edre and Mária, introverts, despise physical contact. When Edre is caressed on his lame arm by another female, he jerks away. The action is repeated by Mária when Edre touches her. We’re never “sure” why Mária still visits a child psychologist, or why she hates physical contact, but we can surmise that she may have had a traumatic event. 

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Visually, On Body and Soul is stunning. The snow covered deer scenes, are not only whimsical pursuits by fantastical doppelgangers, they’re also highly choreographed. The deer aren’t CGI’d. They’re real, and had to go through months of training. These sequences are bracketed by Mária’s play-within-the-play scenes, as she reenacts conversations between herself and Edre, first using two salt shakers, then by Lego figurines. These scenes give a heavy film moments of levity and calm.

On Body and Soul is the power of dreams manifested, mixed with crushing reality of languid love, an emotion with as many mixed signals as the fantasies they’re meant to evoke. While we never find out why Edre’s left arm is lame or what’s mentally wrong with Mária, those details are inconsequential. Because in our dreams, we never ask for those details to be examined. We release them as smoothly as the night air. And as the film, winner of Berlin’s Golden Bear and an Academy Award nominee for Best Foreign Language film, climaxes, when one deer could possibly be slaughtered, as one has given up on the other, we find that the body is more the soul and the soul is more the body than we ever thought before. There is no question that dreams really are the whispers of our yearnings.

As of now, On Body and Soul can be found on Netflix.

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Photo Credit: EuropeanFilmAwards

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