In the changing way we think about theatrical releases, On Body and Soul is the first film of 2018 that really is a 2017 film but might be a 2018 film. I recognize that this is probably uninteresting and unimportant to basically everyone, but when you challenge yourself to write a blog about every 2018 film you've seen over the year and you see On Body and Soul [a film you watched on Netflix streaming about a week ago] show up on the official list of NYC theatrical releases, you would feel obligated to at least make some sort of effort to write something up.
If you've heard of On Body and Soul it is probably because it was named one of the five nominees for Best Foreign Language film at the upcoming Academy Awards. It is actually a pretty inspiring choice for a nomination, though I don't like its chances to pull of a victory. With the Academy, Best Foreign Language is one of the most unpredictable categories, they don't always go for the front-runners [which would probably be The Square or A Fantastic Woman this year], but that's usually because they tend to choose something on the "safer" side, a film that has more appeal over the large voting body.
To that end, On Body and Soul meets some broad genre requirements as something like a romance, even a romantic comedy, but its weird vibes and unrelatable characters [not a knock] are often aggressively antagonistic toward the viewer.
What it's about: Endre is the Chief Financial Officer for an Hungarian slaughterhouse who has vivid dreams of being a deer doing deer things -- walking around a forest, foraging for juicy leaves, drinking from streams, you know, deer things. A new quality control employee at the slaughterhouse, Maria, has vivid dreams of being a deer doing deer things, too. It is uncovered that they share these dreams when an office psychologist is brought in to analyze the employees for maleficence. But Endre and Maria are both awkward people and their attempts to come closer together outside of their dream lives is a difficult process.
- The real highlight of the film is Alexandra Borbély, who plays Maria. Her performance is enchanting. The character's autistic tendencies aren't overplayed, but the mix [or lack] of emotions that Borbély puts on Maria's face throughout the film is endlessly fascinating to watch. She becomes a character that is hard to decipher and at times frustrating emotionally, but you will care for her and her journey.
- I've seen some comparisons of On Body and Soul to the work of Yorgos Lanthimos. The comparison works because of the films quirks, but it is far from perfect. On Body and Soul is more traditional in how it builds its characters -- they might be unconventional characters, but they live in something like the actual world. It also isn't quite as dark as the bulk of Lanthimos's work, but when it does go dark, again, it goes for things that are work on a realistically emotional level.
- A lot of people are going to be immediately turned off by On Body and Soul, not by the quirky characters but the very graphic slaughterhouse scenes. The film doesn't pull punches on what these people do for a living, which is an interesting touch. There are some parallels between what they do and the dreams they have, but the setting works mostly as an antagonizing choice.
- The best scene in the film comes near the climax where Maria goes to a music shop to find "love music." It isn't just a great way to explore the character's emotional and social ticks without being on the nose, it is one of the funniest and clearest comedic moments.
- Overall, On Body and Soul is a difficult film to recommend, Oscar nomination be damned. It will be far too emotionally distant for many and those who are ready for something weird might be expecting too much. Alas, it is currently streaming on Netflix, so the cost of entry is low. You might as well give it a shot, just don't blame me if you hate it.