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‘Son of the White Mare’ Review: Vibrant Myths From Hungary


It’s baffling to think that the 1981 Hungarian film “Son of the White Mare” is just now making its U.S. debut. This should-be classic, with its kaleidoscopic animation and vibrant mythos, is a unique contribution to the animated canon.

Based on Hungarian folk tales, “Son of the White Mare,” directed by Marcell Jankovics, is about the human child (a resplendent boy with flame-like tufts of hair) of a horse who lives in a cosmic tree. Once grown, the son, called Treeshaker for his herculean strength, finds his two long lost brothers and journeys to the underworld to save three princesses from formidable, multiheaded dragons.

Comparative mythology fans will catch some trusty tropes: the questing hero, à la Joseph Campbell; the fairy tale rule of threes; the Yggdrasil-esque universal tree.

But “Son of the White Mare” isn’t just old hat; the simultaneously geometric and fluid animation renders each mythic trope totally new.

There are nods to earlier notables of the medium: the hallucinatory palette of “Yellow Submarine” and the rich visual storytelling of “Fantasia.” The film refuses to spoon-feed its narrative, using graphic motifs and an eerie, forbidding score to tell its story.

But one of the most intriguing choices Jankovics makes is to highlight the gender politics. Women appear as the landscapes, as shrews, mothers or seductresses, always used as tools for the men, and the men are often emasculated. (Treeshaker not-so-subtly transforms another man’s beard into a sword that he wields between his legs.)

There’s a version of the movie that more boldly challenges the reductive vision fairy tale traditions have of women, which feels like the one part of the film that plays it safe. But as for the rest — as Leonard Cohen once wrote, “Let us compare mythologies.” There’s an extraordinary myth to be told.

Son of the White Mare
Not rated. In Hungarian, with subtitles. Running time: 1 hour 21 minutes. Watch through virtual cinemas.

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