Arbelos rescues an animated Hungarian myth from obscurity in a beautiful new restoration
Arbelos Films has been a steady savior of film in recent years. They’ve diligently restored films in 4K that run the entirety of the cinematic spectrum — from Japanese avant-garde gems like Belladonna of Sadness and Funeral Parade of Roses to cult classics like Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie. Yours truly is stoked beyond belief for next year’s release of the restored Sátántangó, Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr’s 7.5-hour opus.
At this year’s Fantastic Fest, Arbelos has premiered their latest passion project — a restoration of Hungarian animator Marcell Jankovics’ Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia). Inspired by the folktales of the Scythians, Huns, Avars, “and other nomadic peoples,” Son of the White Mare tells the story of three brothers who rediscover their true identities as demigods and prepare to rescue their kingdoms and princesses from the “dragons” of the underworld.
While the film’s fairy tale synopsis is easy to digest, watching the film is a wholly different experience. Arbelos has described Oscar-nominated Marcell Jankovics’ feature as “part-Nibelungenlied, part-Yellow Submarine,” but I’d go further and describe it as Gilgamesh by way of Jodorowsky with just a dash of Tron. It’s a film that’s as mythic as it gets, flooding the viewer with elaborately-composed images that range from the childlike (rampaging primary-colored gods look like toddlers’ temper-tantrums) to the psychosexual (rivers and mountains emphasize Earth as very much a heavenly body). As the film progresses into the underworld, idyllic nature imagery gives way to the increasingly industrialized “dragons” — monstrous multi-headed beings made of stone, tanks, and eventually stereo sound meters — and endlessly-spinning castles made of copper, silver, and gold. With rarely a hard cut between shots, the psychedelic images that comprise Marcell Jankovics’ film endlessly blend and contort into each other, creating a technicolor tapestry that overloads the senses within seconds. Jankovics continuously delivers one arresting image after another in Son of the White Mare’s wildly short eighty-minute runtime, paving the way for future repeat viewings where audiences can dissect and analyze each frame.
The most satisfying thing about Son of the White Mare, though, is Jankovics’ reverence for the ancient tales he brings to life — though not in the way most would expect. Son of the White Mare flits through numerous loosely-connected chapters in the epic lives of brothers Treeshaker, Stonecrusher, and Irontemperer, introducing and doing away with supporting cast with the best of dream logic. Jankovics’ hallucinatory animation may frustrate and exhaust more stone-hearted audience members, but Son of the White Mare isn’t a film concerned with keeping its audience looped into the intricacies of its plot. Rather, the story feels like the missing piece of a larger mythological puzzle, reminiscent of Homer’s Odyssey or the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. It’s this instinctual mythic appeal that Jankovics imbues through each of his elaborate, hand-animated shots, trading out a more traditional, kid-friendly retelling of childhood stories for something far more primal and eternal.
In reading about Son of the White Mare’s restoration process on the Fantastic Fest site, I learned that Arbelos (in partnership with the Hungarian National Film Fund Archive) commissioned “a team of over twenty artists to breathe new life into the animation, restoring the eye-popping colors from the original camera negative” for this release. With its astonishing, thematically potent imagery, Son of the White Mare is a true unearthed treasure that beyond justifies the painstaking lengths Arbelos has taken to restore it.
Arbelos will release Son of the White Mare in theaters in Spring 2020, with a Special Edition Blu-ray to follow.