Thursday, April 27, 2017

On Body and Soul appeals to heart and mind (film review)

The HKIFF screening of my favorite contemporary offering of the fest 
was followed by a Q&A session with its wonderful director-scriptwriter :)
On Body and Soul (Hungary, 2017)
- Screening as part of the HKIFF's Galas program
- Ildikó Enyedi, director and scriptwriter
- Starring: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély
Every year at the Hong Kong International Film Festival, local cinephiles are treated to screenings -- sometimes Asian premieres, like the case with this entry from Hungary -- of a number of films that had their world premieres at the Berlin International Film Festival which took place earlier in the year (as well as at Cannes the year before).  And while it's usually the case that this selection includes the Berlinale's Golden Bear winner, it's not at all uncommon that the work in question would also have garnered three other awards at the same fest.    
So expectations were pretty sky high for On Body and Soul, since this offering from director-scriptwriter Ildikó Enyedi had come away from this year's Berlinale with the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, FIPRESCI Prize and the award from the "Reader Jury of the Berliner Morgenpost" as well as the fest's absolutely top award.  And in view of this film hardly being a conventional commercial production, it's actually also pretty amazing to learn that it was a box office hit in its native country too.
Upon viewing this quirky but crowdpleasing work though, I now understand why this quirky romantic effort can appeal both to those who like to think about films and also "just" be entertained: for On Body and Soul is the kind of movie with moments that will get its viewers thinking, shocked, laughing and also feeling like they have been touched to the core.  A quietly magical work, it is awe-inspiring in terms of how original is its story, how well made it is, and how its helmer is able to use an audio-visual medium to not only show that still waters run deep but also reveal the passion lurking in the hearts of those whose exteriors seem cold and faces look blank to those who don't know better.
Endre (Géza Morcsányi) is the financial director of the abattoir on the outskirts of Budapest where Maria (Alexandra Borbely) has been newly assigned to be the quality control inspector.  At least ten years different in age, they appear to have little in common beyond their both being people who take their work at the slaughterhouse seriously and are more likely to spend time watching TV (him) and playing with LEGO minifigures (her) in their leisure time than socializing with other people.  
Amusingly as well as improbably however, it gets revealed that these two solitary individuals both regularly have dreams in which they are deer in a forest with a round pond and a companion of the opposite sex.  Even more unbelievably, they are incredulous to find out, it turns out that they -- who, by the nature of the dreams, are revealed to be more lonely souls than loner types -- have the same dream as the other each night and, in fact, are the other's mate in those dreams!
A lesser filmmaker would be able to milk elements of fantasy or farce out of this plot point.  Ildikó Enyedi shows her genius by being able to make those dream sequences beautiful even while amusing post their fantastical nature having been revealed to the audience, and the often awkward interactions between Endre and Maria after their discovery that they share those same dreams sometimes funny but other times bordering on being sad and tragic.
Also amazing to me was the revelation during the post-screening Q&A session I attended that On Body and Soul's cast was a mix of professionals and amateurs; with the latter including Géza Morcsányi (whose first film appearance this was, and probably last, and is better known in Hungary as the head of an eminent publishing firm) and the old stag that Endre appeared as in his and Maria's dreams!  For, in all honesty, they produced outstandingly natural performances as this (re)viewer was concerned in a mesmerizing work that is very special in terms of its tale and also the quality of its technical execution.     
My rating for the film: 9.0 

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