APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)

Fehérlófia

DIRECTED BY: Marcell Jankovics

FEATURING: Voices of György Cserhalmi, Vera Pap, Gyula Szabó, Ferenc Szalma, Mari Szemes, Szabolcs Tóth

PLOT: A divine white mare gives birth to a son, the Tree-Shaker, who is destined to destroy three dragons in the Underworld who are holding captive three mythical princesses.

WHY IT SHOULD MAKE THE LIST: Marcell Jankovics puts the limitless possibilities of animation on display for this mythic tale. Abstraction and form combine to move the story along in a way that would be stylistically impossible with any other medium, all infused with the most vibrant palette I’ve ever seen in a movie. Son of the White Mare‘s epic nature and ancient roots are perfectly represented by the timeless feel of the nonstop delights to the eyes.

COMMENTS: This movie, I’ve been told, has been hovering around the site’s periphery for quite a while now, with us forebearing discussion until we could watch a high-quality, non-YouTube posting of Jankovics’ iconic masterpiece. With the 4K, re-mastered version from Arbelos Film which screened at the tail-end of this year’s Fantasia Festival, that time has come. Some quick research suggests that a disc release has not yet been determined, but considering the three years of work put into the project by a dedicated multi-national team (under the guidance of Marcell Jankovics himself), it’s bound to made available. Some day soon. Like in early 2020. Hopefully.

In the meantime, let me try to regale you with my poor words what Jankovics and his crew put together almost forty years ago. The film begins with a flash, as a pregnant white horse flees across the screen from a horde of nasty, jagged pursuers. Finding protection in the Earth Tree, she bears a human son, an eager boy who grows to become known as “Tree-Shaker.” He is told the story of his father’s downfall and, after finding his brothers (“Stone-Crumbler” and “Iron Temperer”), he looks for the entrance to the Underworld after outsmarting the Seven Colored Gnome by stealing his beard. With his brothers’ help he forges the beard into a mighty weapon that aids him as he seeks to free the kingdom’s princesses trapped in castles, guarded jealously by twisted versions of their former beaus.

It would be next to impossible to describe how magnificent the animation is. Much of its motion defies Euclidean geometry. To get the vibe, I recommend an image search. But even beyond its presentation, its narrative is well worth a mention. The time-tested methods of storytelling—tasks and goals in groups of three; heroes of impossible skill and origins; ultimate good fighting ultimate evil—are all present. This is not surprising; what took me aback (in a good way) was the fusion of this ancient technique with the interwoven warnings against modernity. Of the three multi-headed dragons fought by Tree-Shaker, two are manifestations of modern man: a seven-headed, dozen-gunned tank beast and a truly menacing, twelve-headed, ever-shifting skyscraper monster. Obviously there is a message here, one that slipped passed the well-practiced Communist censors of the day.

If you’ve patiently waited to watch this movie, please continue to do so. The impending release will be of a print that doesn’t look like it has aged at all. I know that I can get very excited about movies that others find ho-hum (or worse); but, for those of you who’ve seen some version of Son of the White Mare, and to those many others who have doubtless heard its praises sung on high, it lives up to whatever expectations of wonderment you could possibly harbor. Whoever gets the task of certifying this gem, I hope they’re up to it.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“The art style is incredible: pastel and clashing colours are everywhere and are used to paint very trippy and beautiful art. The animation is fluid, with shapes morphing into others and back seamlessly – a road becomes a snake, the gap between two faces changes into a goblet – but these must be seen to grant them their full justice.”–Simon Brand, PopOptiq

3 thoughts on “APOCRYPHA CANDIDATE: SON OF THE WHITE MARE (1981)”

  1. My old 2011 chestnut:

    Animated classics don’t come any more obscure than this 1981 Hungarian feature from director Marcell Jankovics. The narrative of Fehérlófia (“Son of the White Mare”) uses as its source an abundance of eastern European legends and folk tales and crafts an epic adventure of three brothers and their quest into the underworld to rescue three exiled princesses. Jankovics infuses this simple story with modern touches ranging from contemporary social critiques to the use of an eclectic and primarily electronic-based score. The big stunner, though, is Jankovics’ use of mind-bending avant-garde and experimental visuals to tell this story. The art technique is amazing: images are stylized sometimes to the point of non-recognition, but are constantly morphing and changing in such a creative fashion as to always convey the image’s essence. The use of colors is unequaled in its audaciousness (it’s the most retina-scorching use of color I’ve ever seen, rivaled years later by the day-glo madness of the Wachowski’s Speed Racer). Numerology is an important aspect of the fable’s lore, particularly the numbers three, seven, and twelve. Accordingly, there is often a precise symmetry utilized in the animation style. There’s not a lot of dialogue, but what little voice-work there is, is immaculately rendered and meshes wonderfully with the characterizations throughout the film. It reaches as bold and adventurous a plateau as any animated film (ostensibly for children) will likely ever reach. Any fan of foreign cinema should seek out this masterpiece of alternative animation.

  2. I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I almost sprung for the old foreign DVD copy a couple of years ago when it average about $50. I’ll be thrilled if this comes out.

    But of additional interest to 366 and other animation fans, ANOTHER Hungarian animated treat, which is also weird and excitingly adult, is Habfürdő, 1979. Filled with fun music, bizarre stylings and cool techniques, it’s super. I wish someone would tackle a restoration of this. Check out the full thing below or just sample some sections to get an idea of how exciting it is.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1aHSgs71no

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