By Kristen Bialik
Without knowing you at all, I can say that Fehérlófia is unlike any other movie you've seen. Sure, it's animated. That's familiar. And sure, there are some recognizable images. Like, in that the English title is The Son of the White Mare, and there are both sons and white mares. In fact, the storyline itself is incredibly familiar, and in a way, almost universal. Based in ancient folklore, the story is culled from ancient tales of the Scythans, Huns, and Avars but it taps into a shared collection of stories around the world. Ones with kings, princesses, and dragons, epic challenges, numerical symbolism, and a hero's journey. But like I said, it's nothing like you've ever seen. In part because it's in Hungarian and there are no subtitles. But mostly because of the colors, the glorious colors! But more on that later.
Fehérlófia was created in Hungary in the early 1980s by Marcell Jankovics, a Hungarian director and graphic artist most known by American film critics and scholars for his Oscar-nominated short Sisyphus and known by the masses, however unconsciously, for the short's adaptation in a 2008 GMC Yukon Hybrid ad during the Super Bowl. Since childhood, Jankovics had a strong interest in tales and legends. His fervor for folklore grew as he did and he went on to write and publish 15 books and over a hundred articles on fairy tales, symbolism, comparative mythology, sacred art, religious and popular beliefs, and archaeoastronomy. In various ways, all of these topics can be seen in Fehérlófia. In fact, Jankovics dedicates the movie during the opening sequence "in memoriam of the Scythans, Huns, Avars, and all the other nomad tribes."
The story is this. Once upon a time, at the gates of hell (took a turn there, didn't it?) there was a hollow oak. The oak possessed 77 branches which held 77 ravens and 77 roots where there lived 77 dragons. On earth, a great King ruled the land with his wife and three strong and able sons. Yearning to get married, the King granted his sons three beautiful princesses and they all lived happily ever after. Until all hell broke loose and they were devoured by the 77 dragons of the underworld.
You see, there's always a rule. And the King had his: don't open these three forbidden locks and we'll all be happy. But, as legends would have us believe, bitches be crazy and the curiosity was too much for the young wives to contain. They broke the seals on the locks, releasing all the evils of the underworld and giving power over to the dragons. A white mare goddess was held captive under the dragons and bore two sons, but no one knew where the sons were. At last the white mare escaped and gave birth to a third son in a hollow. His name was Treeshaker.
Treeshaker, like his brothers, was a superbaby born with superhuman powers. But, on the advice of his Forefather, he had to strengthen these powers by suckling the horse's milk for seven years and each year, test whether he was strong enough to uproot the tree where he and the white horse lived. Well, seven years of breastfeeding apparently wasn't enough, so the Forefather told him he must continue for another seven years. From that follows more tree shaking and milk suckling (don't worry about it). Fourteen milky years later, Treeshaker at last tears the tree from the earth and for some reason, though I'm not entirely sure why, the universe is about to collapse. While the galaxy is at risk of crumbling, the white mare dies.
Distraught by his horse mother's death, Treeshakers set out to avenge his mother for the pain she endured under the reign of the dragons. Our plucky, milk-fed hero traveled to find his two elder brothers, Stonecrumber and Ironkneader -- and then some weird fighting and butt slapping ensue -- but together the brothers find the entrance to the underworld. Though the elder brothers are too afraid to descend into the underworld, Treeshaker goes in boldly and rescues 3 princesses held captive by the deadliest of the dragons. Though his brothers abandoned him, Treeshaker saves a Griffin's chicks from an evil snake and in return, the Griffin returns him to the Upper world where, once again, three brothers wed three princesses and they all live, you guessed it, happily ever after.
That happy ending is hard to believe in, though, even assuming you whole-heartedly swallowed the fifteen-year-old man nursing from his horse mother and flying through the earth on griffin's wings bit. It's hard to ignore the cyclical nature of the story, and the parallelism between the tale and the tale within the tale. In the white mare's story to Treeshaker, three strong, prince brothers marry three beautiful princesses and well, you know what happens next. When Treeshaker himself arises from the underworld, he and two brothers get married to the three captive princesses. That's all fine and dandy, but it sounds a little familiar doesn't it? Sure, Treeshaker can shake all the trees he wants, and he did slay some beastly dragons, but the similarity of events lead us to believe that even when the beasts are slain, there's some other danger lurking, and some other inevitable downfall is just waiting for man to test the lock.
But who can think of impending doom when watching such a stunningly gorgeous movie? And it really is stunning. More than anything else, Fehérlófia is a breathtaking piece of animation. Jankovics uses a color scheme of audaciously bold and vibrant colors mixed with glowing pastels. The result is a dreamy kaleidoscope of entrancing hues. The style is fluid, as shapes unfurl seamlessly into other shapes. The frames are symmetrical, psychedelic visions of ancient memory with all of stylistic innovations of the last century. Though I shared the story of Fehérlófia, and it's nice to follow along, it's really not necessary. Story comes completely secondary to power of the aesthetic Jankovics creates. It's hard to look away, hard to blink even. So sit back, throw in some eye drops, and let yourself get whisked away by tales of yore and colors anew.
Marcell Jankovics Web page