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Arts & Life

Animated 'Son Of The White Mare' Is Simply Thrilling

Arbelos Films

It’s rare that a movie comes along that’s simply thrilling, and The Son of the White Mare by Hungarian animator Marcell Jankovics, is just that. His drawing is full of dynamic shifts and changes, and constant, ecstatic, motion. Images and movement can be hard and jagged, and at other times, rounded, soft and tender. Objects absorb objects, change shape and color. The film puts you in a realm of existence, where the rules of life on Earth become irrelevant to what’s on screen — the physics even, as gravity itself vanishes.

This is what animation can do — imitating the look of conventional reality has always seemed to me a waste of time, and worse, a waste of imagination.

The story of Son of the White Mare comes from Hungarian folklore, and the goal essentially is the rescue of the universe, of all life. The mare has three sons. The first is Treeshaker, and then come Stonecrumbler and Irontempererer (not great translations maybe). They go into the underworld, to complete tasks, overcome dangers and dispatch ogres.

That’s the usual stuff of heroic epics, but Son of the White Mare gives them startling visual life Images of conception and birth make your jaw drop — Treeshaker growing in the mare’s womb in a swirl of color and motion. Then the mare embraces Treeshaker to nurse him to mythic strength.

Images bypass the conscious mind and the desire to make things logical and literal. But these get into your head in a way that you feel their meaning more than you know it intellectually.

It’s unfortunately uncommon that film images cut so deeply. A cloud-like old man speaks with a deep-voice coming from a barely discernable mouth inside a mass of flowing beard. Son of the White Mare has been called “psychedelic,” but that’s an overused cheap way to describe the visual originality of the movie that matches the precise and obsessively intricate spirit of the folktales.

The mare tells her first son about a tree, with 77 branches and 77 roots. It’s what’s called the “world tree, an image from many mythologies that represents the cosmos, and where the above-ground and the below-ground structures mirror each other. And the three sons have to fight with specifically a three-headed, then seven-headed and finally a 12-headed dragon.

Son of the White Mare is serious film, but not somber. There’s joking and odd humor. Treeshaker’s brothers tend to be inept, so he has to redo the jobs they botch. Treeshaker shouts at Irontemperer that he’s a lousy metalsmith and makes terrible swords. In the folklore of the Western world, three is a magical number of repetitions. One brother at a time is told to make porridge and then a rope to go deeper in the underworld. But a gnome comes along and eats the porridge the first two times, so that again Treeshaker has to finish the job, which he does by spanking his brothers and then cutting off the gnome’s beard, which saps his strength and forces the gnome to do Treeshaker’s bidding.

It’s both funny and entrancing.

In 1981, in the countries controlled by the Soviet Union, animation was not just a toy for children. In Hungary, Poland, then-Czechoslovakia, the former Yugoslavia and even in the Soviet Union itself, animation was also for adults to consider the repressive world they were in. Animation, always under disguise, of course, could be intensely political. No film from Hungary in 1981 that tells a story about freeing the world cannot be about Soviet oppression. One of the giants even looks like a tank, like the ones that crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

And while you’re thinking about history, also pull out your Freud and your Jung. Son of the White Mare is one rich movie.

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