Teströl és lélekröl [On Body and Soul] (2017)

Teströl és lélekröl
Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Writer: Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Alexandra Borbély, Géza Morcsányi, Réka Tenki, Zoltán Schneider, Ervin Nagy, Itala Békés, Tamás Jordán
Seen on: 29.12.2022

Content Note: (attempted) suicide/self harm, sexualized harrassment, cripping up

Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is a manager in a slaughterhouse. His rather boring life gets shaken up a little when a new quality inspector starts working there, Mária (Alexandra Borbély). Endre tries to befriend the much younger woman, but she is stand-offish and has trouble connecting with anyone. After cattle aphrodisiac goes missing, a psychological exam is mandatory for all staff members. That exam reveals that Endre and Mária have been having the same dream. In fact, it appears the two are meeting as deer in their dreams where they have a beautiful romance. That leads them to connect in real life as well, but to actually become lovers is a different thin entirely.

On Body and Soul drew me in with its almost hypnotic pacing and atmosphere. But even as I let myself be carried away by it, there was a part of me that struggled a little with the story.

The film poster showing a close-up of Mária (Alexandra Borbély) with closed eyes. Beneath her and much smaller are a doe and a stag.

On Body and Soul really is beautifully told. It is a story of opposites that somehow work together – Endre and Mária, the slaughterhouse and idyllic forest, dream and reality. The film takes its time to explore these opposites and show the parallels that hide beneath the differences. As it slowly moves along, it creates quite a pull that draws you in, allowing you to fall into the film and its atmosphere.

And yet there were parts where I had my difficulties with the film and the story. The age difference between Endre and Mária that is a little uncomfortable, but never really addressed in the film. The “womanizing colleague” (Ervin Nagy) who is actually less of a womanizer and more of a harasser when it comes to Mária – but the film is busier humanizing him than looking at Mária’s discomfort. The dramatic turn the story takes towards the end that was just too much for my taste.

Mária (Alexandra Borbély) with Endre (Géza Morcsányi) standing behind her.

But probably the thing I struggled most with was Mária’s neurodiversity. Not only because Borbély is not autistic herself, to my knowledge at least, but also the way it was portrayed and dealt with. I mean, it is never explicitely named as autism, but it is very clear that this is what the film is going for. At the same time, it seems like more of a collection of traits that they heard about autism than a realistic portrayal. Mária is shown to learn how to feel, basically, and that is a scary assumption to make about autistic people – that they don’t feel until they are taught. Plus, Mária goes about changing herself to make the relationship with Endre work whereas he is never shown to do the same, which makes things even worse.

So, I guess, much like the film itself, I’m made of opposites when it comes to the film. I really enjoyed the mood it creates, but if I look more analytically at its parts, I have issues. That doesn’t mean the film isn’t worth seeing, but I’d say proceed with caution.

A doe and stag touching noses in a snowy forest.

Summarizing: intriguing.

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