Review – On Body & Soul

When opposites attract and things that shouldn’t go together end up going together, a story of great proportions comes to life. The story of love that blossoms in an abattoir between a handicapped middle-aged man and a beautiful autistic woman. And as none of that would make any sense in the real world, On Body and Soul is a foreign film which in itself could be the reason why this quirky romantic drama works.

Endre is the CFO of a slaughterhouse and manages to run a tight ship. While he has put his womanising days behind him, he lives a relatively quiet life. That is until a new quality assurance team member is hired at the abattoir, Maria. When some drugs for the animals go missing from the medical cabinet, the company brings in a psychologist to investigate who stole it. But what the psychologist finds is Endre and Maria have been sharing the same dream. Every night they dream they are deer running around the forest eating and drinking together, but curiously never mate.

Once they realise they are sharing the same dream, the two start to build their relationship in real life. This is a very new world for Maria as she struggles to understand exactly what it is Endre wants and what she wants from Endre. Through some rather confronting scenes which required a visit to a hospital, the two share a passionate evening and realise afterwards neither of them shared that same dream anymore.

On Body and Soul is a Hungarian film and for the non-Hungarian speaker, it’s subtitled. But like any good foreign film the dialogue isn’t too heavy that you miss the action on the screen. It’s also rather well done in that you can watch the action without having to read the dialogue and know what’s going on, mostly because of the wonderful performances full of expression.

Unless you are a foreign film buff the lead actors aren’t names you will be throwing around the kitchen table. Maria, played by Alexandra Borbély has had a career spanning the last 10 years in film and television. Endre, played by Géza Morcsányi has worked in the industry acting and writing since the 80s.

Alexandra Borbély manages to portray Maria who is amazing at her job because of her attention to detail. This is because she is on the autism spectrum and while people make fun of her, it’s these quirks that make her even more adorable. Borbély plays this really interesting balance of being knowingly pretty, but also filled with autistic behaviour. There are points where her behaviour is so adorable you can’t but help smile at her quirks such as wanting to find the perfect mood CD. But then there are scenes where her behaviour is so confronting it’s hard to watch. A lot of these scenes are so well performed her facial and body language doesn’t match the actions.

Géza Morcsányi captures Endre perfectly in his portrayal of the grumpy distant middle-aged man. Morcsányi is one of those actors where you can almost read exactly what it is going on in his head. He is full of years of baggage that has managed to hold him back. He doesn’t seem to have many friends, nor does he seem to want to make any. All no doubt brought on by his own hesitations and self-doubt. And Morcsányi captures this in a really natural way with empty expressions and what seems inattentive interactions.

As if watching two very awkward individuals fall in love wasn’t hard enough to watch, one of the weirdest additions to the film was the actual operations of the slaughterhouse. There were a number of scenes where you followed the process of a live cow to a piece of beef. Albeit some were necessary to show the operations of Maria’s work. Watching a cow have its head lopped off in what may very well have been an actual beheading was more confronting that Maria’s visit to the hospital.

You can see why it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. It’s because it’s filled with so many unbalances that just go together. And while you may not be able to connect with the characters, at least you will understand them and their love for each other. With some amazing performances, the fact you have to read subtitles does not take away from this quirky, confronting yet perfect Hungarian romantic drama.

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