'On Body and Soul' by Ildiko Enyedi captures human hunt for companionship

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Berline International Film Festival

“On Body and Soul” is the kind of mystical romance drama you won’t find in American theaters, mostly because it is of Hungarian origin. Written and directed by Ildikó Enyedi, “On Body and Soul” presents a different kind of love story with characters representing disabled and neurodivergent audiences and a refreshing take on love.

Following psychological evaluations, Mária (Alexandra Borbély), a slaughterhouse quality inspector, and her boss, Endre (Géza Morcsányi), discover they are sharing dreams at night. In their dreams, they are deer in the forest searching for food and providing companionship to one another. After confronting each other about their circumstances, they develop a relationship beyond their work.

The relationship between Mária and Endre is complicated by her autism, which is behind her preciseness in her work and difficulties in communication. This instigates a struggle between them, as Maria doesn’t understand why her boss wants her to deviate from the rules, and Endre can’t see why she won’t give the beef a higher grade.

Endre doesn’t have use of his left hand but, curiously, Ildikó Enyedi chooses to reference this sparingly, standing in thought-provoking contrast to Mária’s autism. However, he is introverted and somewhat detached from his coworkers. Because of his introversion, Endre spends much time silently contemplating his dreams shared with Mária in his office. Unlike their colleagues who find Mária’s idiosyncrasies disagreeable, Endre finds them endearing.

The inclusion of a neurodivergent lead is an interesting choice. Mária’s divergency is not presented as a problem purely because it exists. Rather, it is a driving force both for her self-actualizing experiences and of the plot.

Borbély’s portrayal of Mária is unintentionally funny, while remaining true to the experience of an autistic person. In an attempt to understand her feelings for Endre, she goes to a music store and stays for several hours listening to all kinds of music. This is important to note because music has been used as a method of treating autism and helping those with the condition to process emotions, which Mária does as she listens. It helps to maintain the accuracy of Borbély’s presentation of her character as autistic.

The portrayal of each character as a skittish introvert is an intriguing choice as well. When the characters dream of themselves as deer, their temperament is reflected accordingly in real life, establishing a strong parallel between their two states of being. This is a clever and engaging trope from the writing team of “On Body and Soul,” focusing the viewer in on the connection between their waking and unconscious lives.

The cinematography of “On Body and Soul” by Máté Herbai is truly beautiful. Most shots slowly pan across coniferous trees and snow, followed by close framing of the deer interacting with each other. Many of the “reflective” scenes are shown in panes of glass, or still sources of water, which is an interesting and shrewd choice. Alluding to the characters’ dreams, Ildikó Enyedi uses mirrors, deer parallels and later in the film slaughterhouse imagery all in a successful attempt to immerse the viewer.

“On Body and Soul” is an unexpectedly sweet romance with refreshing casting and beautiful cinematography. Not only is it giving representation to groups which are not often given such normal representation, it offers a metaphysical look at human connection. Although it may be an unusual Valentine’s Day film, it is a refreshing look at love.

  • Rating: 4/5 stars 
  • Rated TV-MA