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Directed by Marcell Jankovics

Despite having an Oscar nomination and a short film Palm D’Or to his name, it is rare to hear the name Marcell Jankovics outside of hardcore animation circles (although I understand he is well loved in his home country of Hungary). None of his work is as criminally underrated as the visual powerhouse, Fehérlófia (meaning “The Son Of The White Mare”).

The story is simple and well-structured, and refined from a mishmash of folk tales from around the globe. This makes the plot accessible to all, with familiar elements popping up (such as princesses captured by dragons) and very little culturally inaccessible material. The plot concerns itself with Treeshaker, the third son of a goddess-like horse. His aim is to avenge his mother for the injustices that she received from the 77 dragons of the underworld, and free the three princesses held in glorious rotating castles by the most powerful of the monsters. Along the way, he encounters many fantastical creatures, from his two brothers who can move mountains and forge powerful weapons in seconds, to the Seven-Hearted Lobahobgoblin with a taste for porridge and a beard which gives him wondrous powers.

Almost everything in the film comes in multiples of three: the three sons, three castles with three princesses and three dragons and so on. The numbers are an interesting device, but one which has a meaning beyond my grasp, if there is one. Alongside the number three, others appear many times, mainly seven and twelve. Perhaps these have numerological significance in Hungary, but that is just speculation on my part (it would be greatly appreciated if somebody could clear this up).

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As interesting as the structure and lore of the film is, the main focus is on the visual aspect. The art style is incredible: pastel and clashing colours are everywhere and are used to paint very trippy and beautiful art. The animation is fluid, with shapes morphing into others and back seamlessly – a road becomes a snake, the gap between two faces changes into a goblet – but these must be seen to grant them their full justice. The music mainly consists of ambient electronics and low vocal chants which add greatly to the majestic and otherworldly feel of the film and help strengthen the hypnotic quality of the visual art.

Fehérlófia is a beautiful and unique film which is sure to amuse children and amaze adults. It is a real shame that it is nearly impossible to get hold of a physical copy, as this would be a fantastic addition to any collection. The whole film is available in nine parts on YouTube (I cannot vouch for the copyright aspects, and do not condone the upload if it breaches these), but if you ever get a chance to purchase this work, don’t hesitate.

Simon Brand

Being as it is a deserted island picture, you would think Castaway On The Moon would seem derivative of previous work – and while picking up on some influences from Robert Zemeckis’ Cast Away and Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe, Castaway On The Moon offers something decidedly original: a deserted island story about a man who isn’t really deserted at all.

Lee Hae-jun’s loopy rom-com begins with a failed suicide. Seung-keun Kim (Jae-yeong Jeong) jumps off the ledge of an overpass above the Han River. Due to his own misfortune (or good fortune), he ends up stranded on Bam Island, a tiny piece of land in the middle of the Han river. Unable to swim to the opposite shore, he is left with no choice but to stay on the island and await a rescue. Eventually, he discovers that life on the island isn’t so bad, so he abandons his attempts at leaving and begins his attempts at living. Amidst one of Asia’s largest cities, in the one place nobody can see him, Ms. Kim (Jung Rye-won), a young recluse living in a nearby high-rise, accidentally catches a glimpse of him via her camera’s telephoto lens, and becomes obsessed with observing his every action. Thus begins one of most bizarre and heartwarming friendship in recent film history.

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Castaway on the Moon delivers good old-fashioned storytelling from an unusual vantage point. Because of the distance between the main characters, the pair never have the opportunity to meet and so they manage to find other ways to communicate. – Mr. Kim by writing large messages on the sandy beach for Ms Kim to see via her telescope, and Mrs. Kim by communicating through messages in a bottle thrown over the bridge, onto the island. The pen pal-style relationship allows the film’s director Lee to integrate several charming vignettes depicting both Mr. Kim’s plight as a castaway and Ms. Kim’s plight as another type of castaway. Mr. Kim may be stranded on the island, but Mrs. Kim lives her whole life in the confines of her darkened bedroom, completely isolated from the rest of society. She works through her computer and seemingly lives her life online. Like Mr. Kim, she is seemingly caught in the middle of a bustling urban society but easily goes unnoticed. The reluctance to interact is so strong that she chooses to communicate with her mother via text messages rather then simply speaking directly to her.

Ultimately, Castaway on the Moon boils down to a two-person show and the movie’s success can rightfully be attributed to the fantastic performances by the two leads, who mostly occupy the screen in solo scenes. Lee wisely directs the actors into contrasting performances, with Jung Jae-Young leaning towards overacting and Jeong Ryeo-Won delivering a more introverted performance. Lee also takes his time slowly leading the audience into the core of his story through odd but touching moments, such as the running joke where a bowl of black bean noodles becomes Mr. Kim’s motivation for existence. These moments make Castaway a brave, surprisingly absorbing film that takes considerable risks but ultimately succeeds.

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Even more interesting is how the two become isolated from society in very different means. Mr. Kim is faced with forced separation from society while Ms Kim who is in the midst of society chooses to hide away. The virtual distance of Ms Kim is therefore quite akin to Mr. Kim’s physical distance and his separation from the surrounding city. Watching each of them overcome their hardships, faults and fears makes for one of the most exciting and unique character developments in cinematic history. Those themes of loneliness are especially poignant, as it taps into primal fears and emotions, making the character’s journey one that is equally emotionally, psychologically and physically taxing.

Its hard to deny the film’s valid and poignant critique of urban society and contemporary modes, given an ironic twist at the end, wherein the city of Seoul is hit with a rare emergency drill, shutting down the city and possibly allowing for a fateful meeting. I won’t spoil the ending. It’s a somewhat cryptic ending highly reminiscent of Mike Nichols’ The Graduate – both of which coincidentally end on a bus.

Lee makes some instinctive directing choices and employs clever editing. The emphasis on voiceovers to deliver the characters’ thoughts and emotions could have watered down the impact of the story, but like Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express, the excess of voiceover ends up helping the film tremendously, lending a great hand in terms of its pacing. The tone of the movie is often whimsical and playful, but there is a sense of genuine longing and loneliness that must be remedied. Lee’s script strikes a fine tonal balance between comedy, despair and absurdity by successfully including brilliantly timed visual and thematic gags that keep the quasi-rom-com engaging. In addiction, we are treated with breezy camerawork, stunning cinematography and short fantasy sequences that help build the momentum for its surprisingly emotional conclusion.

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Castaway On The Moon is a masterful piece of filmmaking – compelling, smart, and truly original but more importantly it manages to entertain while supplying observations on society, nature, determination, choice, isolation, friendships, ability and more.