For the generous hearts

This film is approachable only with a generous heart,” director Ildiko Enyedi told the audience at the awards

Erik Kirschbaum –
BERLIN –

A Hungarian love story called “On Body and Soul” about two lonely hearts working in a slaughterhouse in Budapest won the Golden Bear for best film at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival.
“This film is approachable only with a generous heart,” director Ildiko Enyedi told the audience at the awards ceremony ending the 10-day Berlinale, which showcased 18 films in competition and 403 in sidebar screens.
Jury president Paul Verhoeven, a Dutch director and producer, said the seven-member panel had fallen in love with the film because it reminded people of something too often forgotten in everyday life: Compassion.
Enyedi put herself on the map with her 1989 debut My Twentieth Century, which won the Cannes Camera d’Or prize for first feature, and she maintains that movie’s mix of magical realist humour and stylized sensuality in this story of two lonely slaughterhouse employees who go to absurd lengths to fall into each other’s arms.
A bit stretched at nearly two hours, with a second act that could definitely be tightened up, the story nonetheless finds its way to a solid ending straight out of the Nora Ephron playbook, albeit with a lot more blood and unpredictable behaviour. Additional festival berths and a few Euro art house pickups are the likely route here.
The film begins with a beautifully shot sequence of a stag and doe wandering a snow-covered forest — a scene that we return to several times and which takes on increased meaning as the plot thickens, or rather unravels in some highly eccentric ways.
After that poetic opening, we’re soon introduced to Endre (Geza Morcsanyi), the stoical financial director of a midsized abattoir on the outskirts of Budapest, and to Maria (Alexandra Borbely), a gorgeous new quality control inspector with some serious communication issues.
Endre is not much of a talker either, and though he clearly has the hots for Maria from the first time he sees her in the employee cafeteria, he can’t really express it.
Maria, meanwhile, seems to be slightly on the spectrum and pathologically anal-retentive, which is perhaps a good thing if your job consists of grading slabs of meat, but not if you’re hoping to start a relationship.
The director takes these two idiosyncratic characters and tosses them into a story that jumps between their slow and somewhat painful courtship, gory details of slaughterhouse life and those earlier forest scenes, which we soon learn Endre and Maria are simultaneously dreaming about each night.
Add to that a subplot involving a police investigation around a stolen vial of bovine aphrodisiac, and what you get is a rich and strange tale of thwarted sexuality that takes a tad too long to get to the point.
As is traditional in Berlin, this year’s festival also tackled current affairs with entries that reflected on global developments and the dark chaos of the modern world with films and their makers commenting on political events in the United States and elsewhere.
Thanks to all the film-makers who tried to save the world with poetry over the last 10 days,” festival director Dieter Kosslick said in a short speech. “You don’t need me to tell you that all is not right with the world now.”