Marcell Jankovics’s Fehérlófia

Every so often I find out about such an awesome piece of animation that I’m ashamed to admit I’ve never heard about it before. Tonight was such an instance when my friend Joshua Smith introduced me to the 1982 Hungarian animated feature Fehérlófia (aka Son Of The White Mare) directed by the legendary Marcell Jankovics. (Note: Other websites peg the film’s release date as 1980 and ’81. If anybody knows for sure, let us know.)

Admittedly I’ve never followed Jankovics’s work very closely. Like most indie animation fans I’m familiar with his award-winning short Sisyphus (warning: unintentionally NSFW soundtrack) and that’s about all. I had no idea that he’d also directed features, especially one as daringly experimental as this one. The first bit of Fehérlófia that I watched was this clip:

After watching this, I thought there’s no way there could be an entire film that maintains this visual intensity and innovation throughout. Then a search on YouTube revealed that the entire film is posted in eight parts and in fact it’s a pretty damn amazing piece of work. Visually, it’s rooted in a pastiche of late-’70s/early-’80s graphic styles yet it also manages to look remarkably fresh and contemporary. This ten-minute segment blew me away:

What the film lacks in the type of nuanced character animation that we demand from our US animated features, it more than makes up for with its experimental graphic animation and sweeping artistic vision. Joshua Smith tells me that he’s working to create an English fansub of the film. I hope he makes that available online so we can all learn if the story is as fascinating as the artwork.


  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    Damn, that was awesome. I sure hope that’s still up the next time I have 82 minutes to burn. I now have a new hobby in finding that guys stuff…

  • http://www.gorillatech.blogspot.com JdR

    I heard he sends out English subtitled copies to fans of his work. That’s why this film has been around the block. (and wouldn’t really need a fansub)

  • http://www.shamoozal.com Frank

    i remember seeing “sisyphus” in school. i haven’t seen it in years. it still holds up. the clips from the feature are really amazing too. it becomes hard to follow after a while because i don’t know what’s going on/being said, but the visuals were striking enough to keep me interested that’s for sure. nice find.

  • http://www.jeva.hu jeva

    One of my favourite movies. I have the DVD at home, so I’ll check it out if it has any subtitles and get back to you.

    ps: from hungary

  • christy

    that is AWESOME! wow!!! thanks amid!!!!

  • http://www.mbproductions.biz /\/\ikahl

    Yeah that’s pretty neat! Thanks for sharing!

  • TStevens

    While it is visually fascinating i think this it is much more an animators type film. Like The Thief and The Cobbler, it is pretty to look at but hard to watch.

  • Michael Polvani

    Ever since I saw the first U.S. screening (around 1984) it’s been one of MY all time favorites. You haven’t LIVED until you’ve seen it on the big screen! I just picked up the dvd on ebay about a month ago. Beautiful!

  • Sigmund Freud

    Good grief! What’s with all the genital depictions??

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    This looks incredible, thanks for the links! Having had more of a look at these amazing clips I’m kind of irritated that anyone would feel the need to say “What the film lacks in the type of nuanced character animation that we demand from our US animated features”. The world of animation would be a better place if animators and fans stopped making this small-minded and unneccessary demand. It’s not like American feature animation ever really delivers on it any more anyway. :)

    Nothing personal but I just don’t get the mentality of someone supposedly interested in animation who, on discovering this film, would be thinking about it in terms of what it lacks. :-S

    Or maybe you’re just trolling… after noone ever seems that interested in posts about amazing animation, just the arguments about stupid stuff, maybe you’re onto something! :)

  • Joshua Smith

    @ JdR
    I didn’t know Jankovics sent out copies for fans, though I wish I had. I’m glad he has that sort of attitude though. Makes me feel better about doing something like this without permission. ;) I’d still like to find a way to contact him though…

    @ Amid
    The fansub is done (and has been for some time), but it still needs to be put online somewhere that’s accessible to more people. I personally think the film’s story is fascinating. It’s an amalgamation of several traditional Hungarian fairy tales and fairy tale themes, interpreted in Jankovics’ unique way. Hungarian folklore is one of Jankovics’ areas of expertise, in addition to animation. As a result, the storytelling in this film is just as bold and confident as its visual execution.

    The only official DVDs of Jankovics’ features are the region 2 Hungarian DVDs. Of these, only his most recent film, Song of the Miraculous Hind (Ének a csodaszarvasról) was released with English subtitles included. Unfortunately, Hungarian DVDs are not easy to track down outside of Hungary. You can also find clips of Jankovics’ (and Hungary’s) first animated feature János Vitéz on youtube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbW5eewKAO0
    Interesting, but Fehérlófia is undoubtedly his masterpiece. I believe his current project is an ambitious animated adaptation of the epic Hungarian play, The Tragedy of Man, which he’s been working on for many years now.

  • http://segaltoons.com Steve Segal

    I saw this at the Cambridge Animation Festival in England around 1984 or so. It was sub-titled and known as Son of the White Mare. I thought the story worked pretty well, and of course the visuals knocked my socks off. Jankovicks himself was there. I was so impressed that I talked Terry Thoren into showing it as part of the First Los Angeles Animation Celebration. Michael Polvani, I suspect that’s where you saw it. So do you know if the DVD can be played on a computer in the US?

  • http://drawingattheendoftheworld.blogspot.com Adrienne

    It would be great to see this film on the big screen. I have never seen this film before or knew anything about Marcell Jankovics. How pure and refreshing.

  • Chuck R.

    “I just don’t get the mentality of someone supposedly interested in animation who, on discovering this film, would be thinking about it in terms of what it lacks.”

    Give me a break. Isn’t that what criticism is all about? Maybe Amid thought he’d state the obvious to ward off certain comments from the get-go.

    You’re right, not every animated film has to be a musical squash-and-stretch-a-thon to be entertaining, but do you really consider this to be beyond criticism? Even from a purely graphic standpoint? I agree that the colors are pretty and the foliage patterns are nice, but you get all that in What’s Opera Doc, (or any Samurai Jack episode) along with far more dynamic compositions. Anyone with a truly discerning eye will notice how often this film drops everything in the center of the screen or overuses symmetry. The angles are never particularly dramatic, and creative POV’s are almost nonexistant. The movement has the same pace throughout, and I’m not even touching on the sound or the draughtsmanship.

    I’m not trying to rain on the parade, but a film should be more than “different” or “refreshing” to get the kind of praise these clips are getting here.

  • http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/ Niffiwan

    I first found out about this film at the cine-clasico forums, and it seemed amazing to me that such a seemingly non-mainstream production could have such mainstream production values. And then I began wondering why the Hungarian animation scene isn’t discussed more. From even a bit of research, it seems that there is a lot out there to discuss, it’s just that few outside the country have done so.

    Here’s a permanent link to the English subtitles, if anybody wants them:

    http://www.mediafire.com/?dowygs7deof

    For anyone interested, someone’s currently selling a DVD on ebay for ~$10 (although none of the DVDs for this film have English subtitles).

    —–

    To Chuck R.:

    Well, this is considered to be a mainstream classic in Hungary. Personally, I don’t see what’s so great about “What’s Opera Doc” that it’s considered a sublime masterpiece by some rather than just a good film (and one can’t really compare it to this anyway; it doesn’t have either the thematic depth or the stylistic unity). You know, you don’t have to be constantly searching for the opportunity to say “Oh yeah? Well, Americans did it better!” I was getting that vibe from your post a bit (well-hidden, of course).

  • Chris Sobieniak

    Interesting seeing the argument made a few posts back about the differences between character-driven and more artistic approaches to animation. I don’t feel like stating anymore to add onto that, but I would like to say I find Jankovics’ work fascinating and innovative, yet, he’s also shown a lot of versatility over the years with the type of films he’s produced. Here’s one short from the late 60′s to check out…
    http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x15yjj_hidavatas-marcell-jankovics-1969_shortfilms

    Apart from a mention of his involvement in Hungary’s first animated feature, Janos Vitez (translated as “Johnny Corncob”), I noticed clips from this film showed up on a Hanna-Barbera music video compilation years ago that left one YouTube poster wondering of it’s origins…
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dr83vJZIXy8

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    Chuck R I’m not talking about criticism at all. I was maybe a bit harsh, sorry, but I’m actually complaining about many animators’ regressive habit of arbitarily measuring any animated film by how much it deviates from a specific style of Hollywood cartoon, rather than judging it on its own merits.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    Joshua Smith, you should maybe put the fansub on stage6.divx.com, and/or bittorrent? Would be amazing to see this at decent quality with subs! Hope you’ll let us know when it’s online somewhere, thanks!

    I’ve started watching it on youtube anyway, it’s pretty incredible! My “truly discerning eye” appreciates the deliberate use of symmetry :) and I’m finding it compelling enough even without understanding the dialogue.

  • Chuck R.

    Niffiwan and Tim: I don’t want to come off as an apologist for American animation (I count Triplettes, Spirited Away, and Wrong Trousers among my favorites) I went with “What’s Opera Doc, because it demonstrates that excellent design can occur even in a “throwaway” short when the creators care enough. You can substitute Allegro Non Troppo if you wish. Hollywood’s capable of going way out on a limb for a dream sequence (Dumbo and Frida come to mind) but the weaving of abstract imagery with character animation throughout this feature is unique and quite an achievement. Maybe I should have noted that, and if I offended our Hungarian brothers, I apologize. I’ve read that Hubley’s stylized intro to Watership Down was intended to be the look of the entire film. Fehérlófia reminds me of what could have been if the right people had the nerve.

    My point with this is if we are to respect all types of films, we need to critique them fairly. Amid’s comments were thoughtful and relevant. A movie doesn’t need to be perfect to be really really great. At the same time, I sense a growing inclination in the comments to bash films that are too familiar or popular with a general audience. Tim, you’re right that too often films get measured against American standards, but the converse is true as well. Too many hardcore fans praise a film to the skies merely for being un-hollywood. I’m trying to make a case for objectivity. Maybe that’s impossible in a subjective world.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    OK, fair enough! :)

  • http://torontoanimation.blogspot.com TempleDog

    Hey, any chance of getting a screening of this at Ottawa ’08? Or (gasp) a DVD?

    What strikes me in addition to the operatic scope and everchanging visuals is how much this feels like REZ and Katamari Damacy, especially in the cubic 8bit baddie…very prescient stuff. Plus the minimalist ‘Sorcerer’ like score is a perfect fit…love the way he cuts the score in and out in the birthing sequence. Amazing stuff, I’ve got to get a copy of this for the TAIS library!

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    I watched the whole thing now, superb. It’s like a cross between ‘Gulliver’s Space Travels’ and Jodorowsky’s “Holy Mountain”

  • gene schiller

    The dvd (available from http://www.hungarian-books.com) is a stunner, but akin to sensory overkill. If you can still see straight after an hour and a half of this, leave your retinas to science.

  • http://niffiwan.livejournal.com/ Niffiwan

    Tim Drage et al:

    Don’t overlook my link to the English subtitles above. I first found them at cine-clasico. Here are the complicated credits for that excellent English fansub (might as well mention this for posterity, since these people did some very good work): CD1 (the film is often sold on two VCDs) was translated by overcat. Timing and editing for CD1 was done by eyemohini. CD2 was translated by someone who is not a member of KG–Elizabeth Szász. This translation was found by oldskool77. Eyemohini retimed and edited this version, then overcat checked off on its accuracy.

    Amid, perhaps you could update your original post and add a link to these subtitles?

    Chuck R.: Sorry about my response, I understand what you were getting at now. And I can definitely get behind your point that in certain circles around here, “different” films are treated more reverently even if they’re not actually very good. I think that in countries where there was/is greater variety in animation (those would, ironically enough, be the ones formerly under communism), that mistake is made much less often; stylistically unusual films are generally expected to still have depth to them and not take cheap shortcuts. What I’ve seen in certain festivals in Canada (my current home) is a lot of people being wowed by weirdness alone, and expecting little more.

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    Niffiwan, thanks for the subs!

  • Stephen DeStefano

    Wow, but seeing these small clips is quite inspiring. I do wish a few Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon shows looked like this.

  • Joshua Smith

    I’ve put a better copy with English subtitles on Stage6: http://www.stage6.com/user/tubesoda/video/2172358/Feherlofia-(Son-of-the-White-Mare)
    Perhaps Amid can update the post.

    To those who would like to obtain an English subtitled DVD for educational purposes, note that I am NOT selling them since I am not a bootlegger, but you can contact me for more information at tubesoda at gmail dot com.

    While I agree that there are people who are eager to praise a film simply for being unique, I don’t think Fehérlófia can be accused of being “weird” for the sake of being weird unless you’re willing to criticize the source Hungarian folktales for the same thing. The art direction is quite original, but it takes inspiriation from a wide variety of sources including Eastern European folk art (which explains all those symmetrical compositions), art deco, art nouveau, even the then newly emerging aesthetic of pixelated computer graphics, and filters them through a late 60′s psychedelic poster sensibility. This isn’t a mish-mash of arbitrary styles, but a sophisticated design that’s subservient to the motion of animation. The comparison to Hubley’s introduction to Watership Down is apt. Like John Hubley, Jankovics tends to apply anthropomorphic motion to appealing abstract shapes rather than depict objects literally, and the mythological story content of this film reminds me of Faith Hubley’s later work.

    I think when judged objectively, culture shock taken into account, there’s no reason Fehérlófia shouldn’t be called a masterpiece. And there are other experimental animated features produced in Hungary in tne 70′s and 80′s that have yet to be “discovered” by the rest of the world. Films like this seem to be the product of systems where the government plays a big role in film production. The tradeoffs were quite substantial, of course, but the former socialist states seemed all to willing to fund the bold visions of artists as long as they weren’t too critical of their government.

    • http://houseofcartooning.blogspot.com/ Tyler Williams

      Just to make it easier for everyone, whenever I go to the link above it just takes me to a screen saying Stage6 is no more. So here is the link to the archive.org site that has download links. It says it was originally from the above address so I believe it is the same quality movie and it has the english subtitles.

      http://ww3w.archive.org/details/stage6-2172358

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tim Drage

    Well said and thanks for the subtitled divx!!

  • Peter Chung

    Joshua,
    Thank you very much for your efforts towards making this phenomenal achievement in feature animation available to all.

    I’ve been hoping to get a chance to see Fehérlófia again for over 20 years. I remember vividly the experience of seeing it (twice) on the big screen in Los Angeles in 1984. I’ve often tried describing scenes from the film to animators on my crew as a model of “pure” animation design. They usually have no idea of what I mean, so being able to show this to them will be immensely useful. I’ll be getting the Hungarian dvd now that I know it’s available, but meanwhile, the divx file is a chance to get reacquainted.

    The traditional approach is to design characters and settings first as static visual forms, then to animate them by “adding” movement. What Jankovics does here and in his other work is to make the movement a primary aspect of the design. Every element– character & setting, foreground & background, color & shape, is integrated into a total composition in motion. It approaches the idea of animation as a visual equivalent to music, with analogs to melody, rhythm and harmony working in a non-literal evocation of ideas and feelings.

    Filmmakers like Jankovics demonstrate the fallacy that film must restrict itself to the portrayal of the external. He uses the language of metaphor and projection to breach the conventional boundaries of physical bodies. It’s a picture of the world that is not limited by the material reality seen through the camera lens. It never made sense to me that animators should impose on themselves the convention of a “camera” at all.

    I’m hoping that more animators will be inspired by their exposure to this film to seek the uncharted roads that the animation medium has yet to explore.

    Speaking of Hungarian rarities from the 70s and 80s, the Pannonia films of József Gémes are the others I’d love to see get wider exposure.

  • http://josephkingworks.blogspot.com Joseph

    This is like a wonderful dream… just beautiful.

  • Jubal Kessler

    I’ve just purchased these two DVDs from the http://www.hungarian-books.com site:

    Fehérlófia
    Ének a csodaszarvasról

    The DVDs are about 10 euros apiece, and the shipping cost is about 42 euros (!) So, given US dollar is at 0.65 euros, the cost for me comes to about USD $90. Lots of pained looks. But the mindspread will be worth it, and I’m allowed one crazy impulse purchase a year!

  • http://www.spiteyourface.com Tony Mines

    No, I don’t think Tims original point has been sufficiently addressed here.

    What I resent, is the implication that an absence of ‘nuanced character animation’ is inherently a ‘lack’, or by implication from Chuck’s comments, an ‘imperfection’.

    I appreciate that in the name of diplomacy, Chuck was trying to forward this argument that (in certain circles) Hollywood animation is derived for not meeting the criteria set by, um, ‘other’ films – in the way that the reverse is the norm elsewhere. But I think this misses the essential point required to back up any claim to objective argument – which is that (in this case) a comparison to western styling was completely uncalled for and shouldn’t really have been bought up in the first place.

    More to the point though, I just dont recognise it as being true. That it lacks nuanced character animation I mean. So its a moot argument. Which I just elected to draw out…
    hmm

  • http://utopiamoment.ca Jack Ruttan

    As a kind of paranthetical comment to Joshua Smith’s note above, as a student journalist, I did an interview with the Producer/Director of Watership Down, Martin Rosen, when the film opened. He said they did the opening sequence of the film, designed by Luciana Arrighi, as kind of a “bump,” to give something abstract and jarring at the start, which would help audiences settle into the more naturalistic animation that was to come.

    I’ve heard people complain about the style, but the attempt at realism in movement and look of the rabbits, plus the soft focus on multiplane elements of scenery, was quite innovative at the time.

    (my own idea is that wall-to-wall abstract design, or a Norman McLaren short expanded to feature length would be pretty exhausting, and lack some of that ‘character development’ people were talking about. Still, times have changed, and people’s eyeballs have gotten educated, so it might work.)

  • Jabba Laci

    Hi,

    I don’t know if you already have the subtitle of Feherlofia, but I have a copy of it. If you need it, I can send it to you.
    It’d be a good idea to append the subtitle to the post.

    Laszlo (from Hungary)

  • http://palais.wikidot.com Jordan S.

    Are these English subtitles for watching with the Czech DVD-Video on a computer?

  • Beau L.

    There is a english subtitled version of this movie on Veoh and is available for download as well.

    Just thought some of you might like to know that.

  • lenak