Kennedy who needed an al­ibi

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

the Kennedy clan, Joseph (Bruce Dern), who can only growl one word: “Al­ibi!” Teddy’s de­meanour when he even­tu­ally comes face-to­face with his for­mi­da­ble fa­ther is that of a small child caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

It’s a clas­sic case of a guilty man who, in try­ing to avoid blame for what he’s done, only gets deeper and deeper into trou­ble. His de­ci­sion to wear a neck brace at Mary Jo’s funeral was just one of his very bad de­ci­sions.

Chap­paquid­dick is the best film to date di­rected by John Curran, an Amer­i­can-born direc­tor who has lived much of his life in Aus­tralia and has di­rected two films here, Praise (1998), in which Clarke had a small role, and Tracks (2013). Energised by the ex­cel­lent screen­play, Curran delves into the char­ac­ters of these po­lit­i­cally am­bi­tious but awe­somely flawed char­ac­ters to tease out a tragedy that started with a simple drunken mis­take but led even­tu­ally to reper­cus­sions that would af­fect the en­tire world. It’s quite a story. The Hun­gar­ian direc­tor Ildiko Enyedi is surely one of the most in­ter­est­ing and in­ven­tive of con­tem­po­rary film­mak­ers, though sadly she’s far from pro­lific. I’ve never for­got­ten see­ing her first fea­ture, My Twen­ti­eth Cen­tury (1989), at a screen­ing in Budapest — it’s a won­der­fully whim­si­cal tale of twin sis­ters who share very dif­fer­ent fates, one as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary, the other as a sex siren. Enyedi fol­lowed this strik­ing de­but with a cou­ple of al­most equally in­ter­est­ing films but it’s been nearly 20 years since she made a fea­ture — and her come­back, On Body and Soul, one of the most cu­ri­ous yet ap­peal­ing ro­mances you’re likely to see, won the first prize at both the Ber­lin and Syd­ney film fes­ti­vals last year.

It’s cu­ri­ous in­so­far as the main set­ting is an abat­toir where the prin­ci­pal char­ac­ter, En­dre (Geza Morc­sanyi), a mid­dle-aged man with one crip­pled arm, works as head of the fi­nan­cial de­part­ment. He’s un­mar­ried and a soli­tary char­ac­ter who spends his evenings alone, ei­ther in a restau­rant or in his apart­ment, and whose only friend ap­pears to be Jeno (Zoltan Sch­nei­der), the hu­man re­sources man­ager, who in con­trast to his friend clearly en­joys a com­fort­able, well-fed, mar­ried life.

The abat­toir ap­points a new direc­tor of qual­ity con­trol, Maria (Alexan­dra Bor­bely), an un­usu­ally shy young woman who can’t bear to be touched and who is bor­der­line autis­tic. She proves rather too ef­fi­cient when she gives the beef a grade 2 rat­ing in­stead of the grade 1 her em­ploy­ers had ex­pected.

Into this her­metic set­ting comes un­ex­pected drama; some bovine aphro­disiac used in the mating of cat­tle is found to have been stolen from the lab­o­ra­tory, trig­ger­ing a po­lice in­ves­ti­ga­tion. A psy­chi­a­trist is brought in to test the men­tal state of each em­ployee, and one of the ques­tions asked of each staff mem­ber con­cerns their dreams. That’s when En­dre dis­cov­ers that he and Maria reg­u­larly ex­pe­ri­ence al­most pre­cisely the same dream.

We’ve al­ready seen this dream. It takes place in a snow-cov­ered for­est where two deer, a hart and a doe, meet. They are search­ing for food, and as they do they make gen­tle con­tact with one another.

At first the psy­chi­a­trist, quite un­der­stand­ably, be­lieves she’s be­ing made a fool of; how is it pos­si­ble for two rel­a­tive strangers to ex­pe­ri­ence the same dream? How in­deed? That’s the co­nun­drum set by Enyedi and it’s the start­ing point for the ap­peal­ing ro­mance I men­tioned ear­lier. The direc­tor has this much in com­mon with Isle of Dogs direc­tor Wes Anderson; they both make wholly orig­i­nal films that could never be made by any­one else. The very idea of a ro­mance set in a slaugh­ter­house is truly weird, and it’s cer­tainly con­fronting at times; yet it’s also strangely beau­ti­ful, touch­ing and sat­is­fy­ing.

Enyedi’s cin­e­matog­ra­pher, Mate Her­bai, has filmed this un­usual story in a cool, al­most de­tached style, using the ex­panse of the Scope screen to max­i­mum ef­fect — the re­sult is never less than beau­ti­ful. And Enyedi shares with the late Czech direc­tor Mi­los For­man the abil­ity to switch from the tragic to the com­i­cal and back in a nanosec­ond.

The film’s ti­tle in­vites us to spec­u­late on the ex­is­tence of the soul. If the an­i­mals we kill for food had a soul, or if we thought they did, would it make a dif­fer­ence? Given the cur­rent con­tro­versy over the treat­ment of Aus­tralian live­stock be­ing shipped to the Mid­dle East, Enyedi’s theme seems un­usu­ally per­ti­nent.

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