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Ildikó Enyedi on Her Return to Film with On Body And Soul

After a lengthy hiatus, Ildikó Enyedi is back with On Body and Soul. The film has been nominated for Best Foreign Language Feature at the 90th Academy Awards. The film highlights Enyedi’s fine skills in creating surreal films. I caught up with Enyedi recently to talk about making an unconventional and striking drama.

What was the beginning for you?

We live such sheltered lives, we live sheltered from both the good and the bad. It was a blind wish to make a film about braveness and stepping out of your comfort zone, taking risks and having the chance to live your life.

This was the moving force behind helping me define the characters. Once I had the characters, I tried to find a story where they had to react to a situation and it wasn’t an option for them to remain in their sheltered cages.

What I loved was how you chose to have the lack of passion and chemistry, which is something we so rarely see.

Imagine yourself in that situation and it’s thrilling, uncanny and awkward. I watched my two heroes acting and reacting and make something brave. I watched them make something so coherent that came from their own characters.

The music awakens her senses, especially at the end and it’s so powerful. Talk about the music.

I tried different tools. I found this old song by Laura Marling. I tried different tools not to just show you Maria, but to show her world and how she perceives the world around her. When she listens to music, it’s a new territory for her. I wanted the audience to be as swept away as she is. Everything in sound design was built in the film for this moment. I told our composer that he should starve the audience of real music, they need to be hungry for it. It wasn’t an easy task for him. If there is a very small and very rare moment of music in the film, he had composed tons of music to get to that right one.

What was the decision as you shot in the forest but you also used the slaughterhouse as the core of the film?

Our whole team had a life-changing experience. The goal of the film was to dig out from under the many layers of habits, culture and society. It was heartbreaking to see the live animals, waiting 24 hours before they were slaughtered and that was the regulation. Walking around and seeing their eyes as they were waiting patiently, silently for their fate and it was clear that they were aware that they were in a horrible place. To watch those workers move around them and speak to them, touch them and sometimes lean their bodies against them, and have that elementary feeling of solidarity and fraternity with these animals was surprising because these workers were the same workers that would kill them. They had such a genuine respect for these animals.

It was similar to those tribal conditions where you go after the animal, hunt it, kills it and then thanks it for keeping you alive. We buy meat in the shops but we don’t want to see how it arrives there.

You wrote the script ten years ago, what was that journey in finally getting it made?

It was a special journey. I tend to work on scripts for a year. It’s usually a wonderful journey of exploration while I explore the subject of the film.

The first draft was written in less than four weeks. I barely sleep but it was done in a passionate rush. All my choices were purely instinctive. Only after it when I wrote the scrond draft did I make a few changes, but that was it, I only had two scripts.

I questioned my instinctive choices. I questioned the slaughter house and kept asking why and I could explain them to myself. I put the two characters in a situation. I don’t know how it came to me and I logically followed them.

Your casting, Alexandra is great. How did you find her?

I actually know her from theater school. I’d seen her before. Her hidden potential struck me. This is her first main film role even though she’s successful in film. These previous theater experiences encouraged me to ask her to become this Maria. Everyone was shocked by my casting and what she did and how she really found this role, she dug deep to find Maria within herself. I hardly had to tell her anything on set. She was so authentic.


On Body and Soul is streaming on Netflix