By Defending Ourselves, We're Limiting Ourselves: Director Ildikó  Enyedi 'On Body and Soul'

Géza Morcsányi (IMDB)

"I had a wish for my two characters to risk themselves in order to have a full life -- not to have that miserable and limited life... because they were looking for more safety."

On Body and Soul (Teströl és lélekröl)

Director: Ildikó Enyedi
Cast: Géza Morcsányi, Alexandra Borbély, Zoltán Schneider
UK Release date: 2017-09-22

Ildikó Enyedi's On Body and Soul (Teströl és lélekröl, 2017) was awarded The Golden Bear at the 67th Berlin International Film Festival, and will be Hungary's submission for the 2018 Academy Awards.

The film tells the story of an introverted man and woman working in a slaughterhouse; Endre (Géza Morcsányi) the divorced, world-weary financial director, and Maria (Alexandra Borbély) the socially awkward and vulnerable quality controller. When they discover they share the same dreams, initially puzzled, the unlikely pair soon attempt to recreate this shared connection in their waking world.

Enyedi's debut feature My Twentieth Century (1989) was the recipient of the Caméra d'Or at the 1989 Cannes Film Festival. On Body and Soul marks Enyedi return to feature filmmaking after a 17-year break following 1999's Simon, the Magician. During her hiatus from feature films, her prominent directorial work was the HBO Europe series Terápia (2012-2014).

In conversation with PopMatters, Enyedi reflects on an initial reluctance to define herself, and a missed opportunity for expression. She also discusses the connection between dreams and cinema, and the magic of the movie theatre in the human experience.

Why film as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

I, in fact, chose film quite late. It was after I'd made my first feature film, My Twentieth Century. I was very much resistant to choose anything as a profession. I worked on the borders of culture and mainstream filmmaking because it's very expensive, and so it was somehow no-go territory. But I enjoyed the complexity of the work on my first feature film so deeply that I just chose film.

What position does On Body and Soul occupy within your body of work?

I can't really say that I have a career or a clear line. It's very broken and damaged because I didn't do what I enjoyed to do for many years. Also, each film of mine came from a very elemental need to share something, and that is why the construction of a film career did not happen.

I think filmmakers should think about this, and I deprived myself of many years when I could have done something fulfilling for me, and perhaps meaningful for others. Although, by being aware of what your work can mean and how you can position yourself in the film industry, you can perhaps forget about your freedom. I'm teaching directing at the University of Budapest and I try to show young filmmakers that it's necessary, although I must say that in the eyes of the film community, and of the spectators, I am centralised. The warm acceptance of this film with such a natural openness, which has come after 17 years of not being able to make films, somehow speaks against what I just told you about building a career.

What was the impulse that compelled you to re-engage with feature filmmaking after such a prolonged break?

Every day of my life, including the weekends during those 17 years, I was working on a film project, and then finally we started to work on this. I just wanted to avoid making a big splash comeback. This is a very low-key film and when we started, I spoke with my colleagues and I told them, "Listen, guys. This film will probably never go to any major festivals. It's not connected to any actual currents." It's consciously not a strong auteur film. I tried to hide behind my characters because I wanted to let them breathe and to connect directly with the audience. I told them we had to make the film this way because otherwise it just wouldn't exist. It would have destroyed the film if it had been on a bigger scale or if it was a more showy auteur film.

This is my first film, for example, that I shot on 35mm because today to shoot on film has a sort of auteur quality, but I continue to love it. That's why we chose a very low-key format and in every sense, we just wanted to make a very low-key film where we just let all of the passion that was simmering under the surface out, and to let the spectators discover it for themselves, should they want to. And in fact, the starting point was this simmering passion and energy, this longing for life and openness beneath the surface.

The drama of filmic storytelling can deprive it of the realism of the human condition or experience. Here, you stray away from dramatics to embrace a subtlety -- the way characters will glance around a room or at one another, the little gestures of standing at the window, gazing out and picking up the coffee cup. Even the act of wiping a table or sitting in a room quietly, contemplating loneliness. Does the removal of drama allow film to transform into a prism that reveals a portrait of the realism of the human experience?

I'm so happy you spoke about these details because in our small team I worked with some wonderful people, and everybody was so involved. They understood that just to light the right way, so as to be able to see the crumbs on a kitchen table, and then wiping them away and the water remaining on the table surface were very important elements of our film. And at the slow intervals in the lunch break, when the killing has stopped and people are chitchatting, having a coffee and a cigarette, and some nice music is on the radio, it was very important to capture the faces of the cattle, of the cows standing in silence waiting patiently for the killing to continue.

These so-called 'passage scenes' seemingly do not add something to the plot, but they are essential. I was again touched during the shooting as to how naturally and deeply the people with whom I worked with were as involved in the whole story as I was. For example, the prop man and the art director were discussing on not an aesthetic, but a psychological level, which salt and pepper shaker to use. I remember standing behind them as they had a passionate discussion about what a type of material means. For example, why it can't be a plastic or a metal salt and pepper shaker, and their reasoning was psychological. It spoke about Mária, her life, and in this way it spoke about life and the human condition as you just said.

Aside from its preoccupation with the human condition, On Body and Soul is also interested in the role of dreams in the human experience. C.G. Jung contextualised dreams as a means for us to solve the problems we cannot solve in our waking state, which ties into your two characters experiencing shared dreaming and their attempt to replicate that connection in their waking states. Do you perceive films as being structured on a dream logic?

I'm very happy that you brought up Jung, because from his work the most important thing for me in regard to this film is the common unconscious, which we are so rarely in contact with. In fact, we are effortlessly in contact with it through our dreams, even if we decide yes or no. You can't decide, you are just yourself. More importantly, you reach out to a level of yourself where you are united with the rest of mankind, where you will have shared something.

In the daylight nearly everything is about differences -- what differentiates me from others or us from other groups? I had a wish for my two characters to risk themselves in order to have a full life -- not to have that miserable and limited life they chose to have because they were looking for more safety. This is what all of us are doing, perhaps not to the same extreme as Maria, but all of us try to defend ourselves, and by that we limit ourselves.

In your dreams you are together, sharing something and you are fully yourself. It's like animals that are fully present in every moment of their lives. They just don't have a choice -- they are there, and this is a luxury we very rarely have.

What is the purpose of cinema in our contemporary world? Beyond entertainment, does it possess a deeper universal purpose that exists on both psychological and dreamlike levels?

The function of the movie theatre is changing, and perhaps because of its rarity, and as it becomes rarer to go to the cinema than to consume movie images at home or on your phone, the magic of it becomes stronger again. So somehow we are getting back to the roots, to the early stages of that wonderful luxury to be in a dark room together with unknown people, sharing something with them.

In every cinema hall, a slightly different thing will somehow happen because of the people that are present -- how they watch a film together and how they react. I think it is a very important part of our lives to experience the luxury of connecting with one another in a room, connecting through a film with both people that are living far from us, and those no longer living. This is for me a magic place of connection, of being part of these very controversial things, which is humanity on our earth.

On Body and Soul is released theatrically in the UK on Friday 22 September 2017.






Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pay Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.


Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.


Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.


HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.


Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.


Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.


'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.


'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.


Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.