Ildikó Enyedi: On Body and Soul / 67. Berlinale
2018.01.24.

Snow frozen stiff cracks under the hooves of a beautiful deer in the wintery forest of dreams saturated with a strange, atmospheric sense of reality. After many years Ildikó Enyedi gives us a story, food for thought and a bit of magic. BY ZSOLT GYENGE.

The content, the structure and the „clockwork” of dreams have been the object of scientific, mythic, esoteric and of course artistic analysis hundreds of times, as we know at least since Freud, that dreams can be a doorway to layers of our personality locked away from our consciousness. For this very reason the depicting of dreams or dreamlike images has often become the metaphor of reality in works of literature, fine art or cinema. Ildikó Enyedi’s focus, however, is elsewhere; her interest is of an ontological nature, she seeks whether the dream, the alternative reality exists at all, and if it does, what kind of existence we are dealing with.

At the press conference in Berlin, when asked about the method of shooting the dream sequences, the director frequently used the words real and reality, saying that all these scenes were shot at actual locations with real animals. This is surprising beyond the purely technical aspects, because unreal or even surreal are more often associated with dream sequences. In her work Enyedi has always been interested in the existence of transcendence in a very broad sense of the word, but she probes the similarities of miracles and our world, not the differences: How do miracles, fables and the irrational interweave our everyday life.

Most of On Body and Soul is set in a slaughterhouse, where a psychological assessment following an unclear scandal reveals that the financial manager (Géza Morcsányi) and the new quality surveyor (Alexandra Borbély) have the same dreams. They roam the same forest in the shape of a deer every night, and their connection is underlined by a similar ailment, which also hinders them getting closer to one another: the left arm of the man and the emotional world of the woman are both paralyzed. A body restricted in movement meets a soul with a similar condition – this is square one as drawn by Enyedi. Through their meeting in the mundane world the film completely avoids the suggestion of Bartók in Cantana profana, where passage between the universes is impossible. („And so their antlers / Cannot pass through doorways, / Only roam the forest groves; / Their slender bodies / Ne'er in clothes can wander / Only wear the wind and sun, / Their dainty legs / Can never stand the hearthstone, / Only tread the leafy mold; / Their mouths no longer / Drink from crystal glasses / Only from clear mountain springs.”)[1]

Géza Morcsányi
Géza Morcsányi

The situation also unveils the dichotomous structure of her thinking. Once again we are dealing with sharp contrapositions. The naturalistic depiction of the sometimes even frightening corporality of the work at the slaughterhouse is set against Maria’s almost lifelessly drab world or the dream sequences that are bodiless in nature. And similarly the bulky cattle processed at the slaughterhouse are set against the supple deer, these perfect variations or platonic ideas of cows only possible in dreams or tales.

Regarding the body and soul of the title, the primary question seems to be if a common consciousness is possible within and across several bodies. The resurfacing of this topic in the oeuvre is intriguing, as we fundamentally seem to be dealing with the same idea that was suggested by one of the possible interpretations of the closing sequence in the debut work almost thirty years ago, namely that the film is assumed to be the shared dream of the twin girls shivering in the snow. This time the souls entrapped in separate bodies roam together in a forest of a shared dream. It is important to note, however, that the proposition is not an end in itself, its purpose is not merely to reveal this unusual state of affairs, it also wonders about the existence of true, destined love that can transcend the ethereal emotions of fallible humans. Is there a soul mate of ours in any sense of the word, someone we need to find?

Alexandra Borbély
Alexandra Borbély

Despite the sensitive and wise scrutiny, On Body and Soul is, alas, no masterpiece. One reason is the plot becoming illustrative at times, meaning that nothing happens in some of the scenes, they only serve to depict certain elements necessary for the narrative in an oversimplified manner. Furthermore, some characters turned out to be very shallow – the psychologist played by Réka Tenki, for instance, is embarrassingly forced. And, to my greatest sorrow, the visuals of this film are unimaginative and clichéd compared to earlier works of Enyedi. The obvious visual contrasts of the two leading figures’ environments (warm shots with low depth of field versus sharp images drawn with pale pastels) are much too bombastic, and the conspicuously „beautiful” compositions, although effective, follow the logic of still images entirely. The film does not use the language of motion, of moving images at all – in my view it was not a good idea to replace Tibor Mathé, the cameraman of all earlier works.

While I felt Enyedi’s earlier films to be questions, this new film that is in some sense more conscious, more mature, seems to be providing answers as well – albeit partial ones. The ending of On Body and Soul – spoiler warning, those who haven’t seen the film should stop reading and resume later – states somewhat bitterly that reality and imagination cannot coexist. While almost two decades ago in Simon, the Magician the miracle happens without the annihilation of magic, this time fulfilment and realization leads to the end of imagination. After many years Enyedi asserts that we cannot have everything at the same time: If we succeed with the impossible and fulfil our dreams, we have to part with dreaming, the possibility of longing. And consequently, as soon as we find our true love, our soul-mate, magic disperses at once, and he/she will only be one among many.
 
Translated by Péter Papolczy. 

[1] translated by Robert Shaw

Szerző: Zsolt Gyenge