Berlinale 2017: Awkwardness and tristesse

A review of the A teströl és a lélekröl viewing experience at Berlinale 2017

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**Contains mild spoilers**

Squeezing myself in the seats of the Frederichstadt-Palast at 9am in the morning is probably not the most ideal way to start up my day in Berlinale. It was all (almost) worth it though, as I got to view the enchanting A teströl és a lélekröl (On Body and Soul) which ended up winning the Golden Bear for Best Film. As swarms of viewers -mostly 60+ year olds- gently elbowed each other in the gut to get to the better seats of the theatre I was relieved when fellow P&P student Rick made his way over so I wouldn’t have to worry about claiming the empty seat next to me anymore. The lights went off and the familiar Berlinale clip rolled on screen.

A teströl és a lélekröl is about the slow manifestation of love, set in the gruesome yet sterile environment of a slaughterhouse. Maria (the new meat quality inspector) a mildly autistic woman with social extreme social anxiety and OCD who has never had physical contact with people, and Endre (the financial director of the abattoir), a middle aged ill mannered man whose one arm is crippled, struggle to create meaningful relationships as they navigate through life. The two quirky introverted protagonists, each deal with their mental and physical illnesses and manage to create a bond in the most peculiar of ways: by serendipitously meeting in their dreams in which they are incarnated into deer. The animal incarnations in their dreams allowed them to transcend their fears of intimacy, and physically interact, creating a bond of shared vulnerability which in time trickled into their real lives.

Unfortunately the often extreme and knee jerk reactions of the protagonists and the rather strange manifestation of Maria’s mental illness were taken rather too comedically by the audience who managed to laugh through the better half of the film even as Maria had a mental break down which almost cost her her life. As the people surrounding us were all rolling on the floor laughing, so to speak, Rick and I glanced at each other and back at the screen still showing blood rushing down Maria’s body in horror.

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I didn’t know if I was taking the film too seriously or if everyone else was going crazy. Or maybe the audience didn’t know how to react to the rather gore and awkward scenes which honestly did make me crawl a little in my skin. Whatever the case, director Ildikó Enyedi did say in her acceptance speech that “this film is approachable only with a generous heart”. Well I’ll tell you this: the audience did seem very generous with their laughter. That said there was some awkward comedic scenes squeezed into the film which were at times highly appreciated as they made the story feel, in a way, more human, but at times pulled the film down to an uncomfortable slap stick level.

A point of critique that both myself and Rick agreed on was the change in style which occurred around the middle of the film. As the film started I was immediately captured by the intimate shots of deer by a freezing lake which were violently contradicted by a graphic gore scene of a cow being slaughtered and Adam Balazs’ eery score. Unfortunately these types of violent juxtapositions and interactions with the abattoir’s set were neglected pretty early on and instead swapped for more mundane office interactions -often cueing some awkward comedy. Even though the film was undeniably beautifully shot, I left the screening wanting more of those marvellous and intense scenes in the slaughterhouse.

Nevertheless A teströl és a lélekröl is definitely a film I’d recommend, and worthy of the Golden Bear it was awarded for this year’s Berlinale. Though my theatre experience didn’t seem ideal to entirely immerse myself in the film, I did manage to squeeze out a tear or two, between the roaring guffaw of the lady seated next to me.

I thought Ildikó Enyedi, who had previously received high esteem for My Twentieth Century (1989), managed to unravel a heartfelt and honest love story through her enchanted scenario of meeting strangers in dreams. Intense and gory at times, soft and vulnerable at others, the film managed to make this strange love story seem familiar. Beautiful long shots of animals juxtaposing the roughness and sterility of the slaughterhouse’s environment, red blood falling on pale surfaces, and Laura Marling’s song “What He Wrote” paint this film in a tint of tristesse and excitement, the colour I would describe as the colour of anxiously waiting for a new lover to call.

(p.s. if you do end up watching it let me know if you thought it was as funny as everyone in the audience did!)


Text and photo by Eleni Tzialli

 

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