Monday, 25 December 2017

On Body and Soul

As I do not want to give away the truly original plot element that is at the centre of On Body and Soul, I cannot go into a huge amount of detail about this engaging film. The main thing is that I would not hesitate in recommending it, although, as a lifelong shudderer at the sight of blood, I should point out that there are a couple of blood replete scenes - forewarned, however, one can always look away.

The action of the film is split mainly between an abattoir in Hungary, the apartments of two of its employees - the finance manager and the maternity-leave-replacement hygiene inspector - and a quiet forest snowscape. Believe it or not, it is a romantic comedy, admittedly of a most unusual kind. There are many moments of humour, not least the attempt at a lunch date in a restaurant where a waiter feels his mobile telephone takes priority over his customers and the scene in the CD-shop.

I should point out that the setting and dullness of the main actors' professional lives are not the only unusual rom-com elements. Among others, the way that the film suggests that affection and love are the ideal precursors for sex, that drunkenness, intense sociability and being a laugh and a good sport are not compulsory human attributes - indeed might even be signs of vulgarity - strikes me as not exactly run of the mill.

The two main actors are very good - the female of the pair, I read, just won a prize in Berlin for her performance, deservedly so, I think. Actually, the whole cast are good, with perhaps a special nod to the psychiatrist and to Sandor, whose facial expressions in his interview on his first day at work were wonderfully nuanced.

While an abattoir seems a truly unlikely setting for any kind of story, let alone a romance, the scenes showing cattle waiting meekly, or plodding obligingly toward their deaths provide a poignant and oddly comforting counterpoint to those in which the film's human characters stumble as blindly through their own brief lives. It may be worth noting that it is a full three minutes into the film before we even see a human face.

On Body and Soul creates a resonant quietness that I found lingered with me after it had finished, lending a pleasant strangeness to everything around me. The film conveys wonderfully the mystery of reality, showing how that mystery exists in every part of the living world, if we care to notice. You could also argue that it is a simple story about meeting the man or woman of your dreams. Whatever else it may be - and I think it has many subtle layers of allusion - it is above all a very beautiful film.

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