Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Monday, February 26, 2018

OSCARS 2018: On Body and Soul (2017)

It's not uncommon for themes to emerge throughout an Oscar season. Considering the political climate of the past year, you'd really expect two concepts to occupy discussion: Race and gender. Both have come up a lot, with your “Get Outs,” your “Mudbounds,” your “Lady Birds.” However, another reoccurring theme has sprung up this year too.  Depending on how you interpret certain characters, “On Body and Soul” is the third film I've reviewed this month to prominently feature a character on the autism spectrum. Considering how awareness of these conditions have risen in recent years, I guess this isn't surprising. Whatever the reason why, it's fair to say that “On Body and Soul” tackles this concept in a way not quite like any other film.

This Hungarian film follows Endre and Maria. Both work in a slaughterhouse. Endre, an older man with a disabled right arm, works on the office and the floor. Maria, a younger woman with some form of autism, works as a quality inspector. After some steroids are stolen from the slaughterhouse, a psychologist interviews all the employees. She discovers that Maria and Endre are having the same dreams: Of being deer, running through the snow and eating leaves together. Maria and Endre realize the two have a connection. They attempt to form a relationship but it proves more difficult than expected.

“On Body and Soul” is a film with an odd tone. The film, overall, has a very gentle, lyrical atmosphere. This is most apparent in the dream sequences. These are composed of incredibly still scenes of deer, slowly grazing through snowy fields. They watch errant leaves stick through the snow or gently flowing streams. It's really beautiful stuff. Content-wise, this is in contrast to some of the film's other elements. Such as a non-simulated scene of a cow being slaughtered and cut into pieces. Or fairly graphic sex scenes, including a shot of hardcore pornography. Yet all of “On Body and Soul” carries the same dream-like atmosphere. This creates a film that washes over the viewer in a delightful, languid way.

What I liked the most about “On Body and Soul” is Maria. She is a young woman that has a very direct way of dealing with things. She goes about her job with an acute, accurate, unfailingly focused sense of determination. When she realizes something is evolving between herself and Endre, she goes about falling in love in the same fashion. She goes to a record store and listens to a huge pile of CDs – across all genres, until the store closes – in order to find romantic music. She systematically watches pornography, chewing gummy bears as she goes. She goes against her autistic inclinations and practices touching and cuddling. A lesser actress would've reduced Maria to a list of quirks. (She play-acts person-to-person interactions with Playmobil figurines, as one example of quirky behavior.) Alexandra Borbely, however, brings an incredible sense of empathy to the part. She makes Maria  fully-formed human being.

Maria lives a lonely life and perhaps doesn't naturally notice it. Endre, meanwhile, is all-too-aware of how lonely he is. His useless arm is a nuisance but it's enough to create a divide between himself and other people. His attempt to court Maria are awkward. They end up napping in his apartment together, Endre sleeping on the floor on an air mattress. (This isn't the only awkward romantic interaction. A female janitor gives Maria tips on dressing sexy, which she doesn't entirely understand.) Geza Morcsanyi imbues a deep sense of melancholy into the part without loosing sight of Endre's charm and humor.

“On Body and Soul” doesn't nail every aspect. Maria makes a sudden decision near the story's climax that I wasn't entirely sold on. Some of the side characters in the film are unnecessary distractions to the film's point. For the most part though, “On Body and Soul” is a charming and beautifully composed motion picture. It's a quirky love story that doesn't lean too hard into the twee-ness. It's funny without being thoughtful, a surprisingly touching movie about love blooming in the most unlikely of places, told in a deeply lyrical fashion. [9/10]

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