2020 Milwaukee Film Festival: “Son of the White Mare (Fehérlófia)”
One of the joys of a film festival, virtual or otherwise, is in discovering something unexpected which opens up the possibilities of just what you can do with film. The 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival, care of its Cinema Hooligante program, found itself a cult gem in SON OF THE WHITE MARE which finds itself awash in the possibilities of animation unlike anything we have become accustomed to.
Animation is a worldwide popular form of film, whether from Disney, Pixar, Japanese anime, and all point in between. We’re used to the various ways that animation can be done. So used, that sometimes we forget the possibilities. SON OF THE WHITE MARE is a reminder of paths that aren’t tread, and strange visions that are only limited by the imagination of the animator.
Never released theatrically in the United States before its recent restoration, SON OF THE WHITE MARE was created in 1981 in Hungary. It comes from a place, behind the Soviet Iron Curtain, that no longer exists, and from a Eastern European tradition of animation and folk stories that has been widely forgotten. It might as well be from an alien world. Watching it, is to immerse yourself in a completely new vision.
SON OF THE WHITE MARE is essentially a folk tale. A world of ancient godlike beings were overthrown by dragons accidentally unleashed by vain princesses. The world seems destined for black hopelessness, except for a magical white mare who gives birth to three brothers that represent hope. Especially the youngest, named Treeshaker, who the mare nurses until she has nothing left to give, but who seems destined to slay the dragons, rescue the princesses, and restore hope to the world. The result is essentially a quest movie.
Now, the story of SON OF THE WHITE MARE is not going to win any awards. A problem presents itself, usually in threes, and Treeshaker heroically resolves it. There’s little in the way of character arcs or really character. The foreignness of the folk tale it’s based on is the novelty, being especially strange and exotic in a Judeo-Christian world. It’s just sturdy enough to hang a movie on.
It’s the form that the story takes that’s the real selling point. SON OF THE WHITE MARE is being billed as a psychedelic epic and that’s exactly what it is. It represents a type of animation that’s free from rules and where only possibilities exist. Colors erupt into abstract shapes and revolve into beautiful images. Magical swords become phallic symbols. Heaven and Earth collide. It’s the closest I’ve seen animation break free from all boundaries since perhaps FANTASIA, while still delivering a story.
And, it’s a story with ideas. The dragons the hero fights have their own memorable shapes. One takes on tank like imagery of a war machine. Another is a brutalist city, perhaps something inspired both by Metropolis and Nazi imagery. Or even perhaps Soviet imagery. And, somehow, SON OF THE WHITE MARE hasn’t aged as if it exists outside time.
SON OF THE WHITE MARE has been one of the great discoveries of the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival. It’s daring and bold. And, it’s the first film that really made me miss not seeing it with a crowd. I can imagine this playing like gangbusters at a midnight screening with its bold imagery filling a larger than life screen. It’s a vision that deserves to be seen and shared.
SON OF THE WHITE MARE is streaming throughout the 2020 Milwaukee Film Festival which runs from October 15 to 29, 2020. Tickets to individual films and passes to the festival as a whole can be purchased via Milwaukee Film.