“The tragedy of man”. Imre Madách’s masterpiece reminds most Hungarians of interesting or torturous literature lessons, even though it is one of the most outstanding philosophical works in Hungarian literature.
Its plot is based on the biblical story of creation, with Adam and Eve, the first human couple, as its protagonists. After God expels them from Paradise, the sleeping Adam is led in his sleep by Lucifer, the fallen angel, through the history of mankind into the unknown, distant future.
Marcell Jankovics, who turned 70 in 2011 and died in 2021, made a cartoon version. Although the result is difficult to digest, it is a work that makes the viewer want to watch it again, the visual execution is aesthetically stunning. The snake dance, the merging of colored or even faded figures, the body that turns into a face, the shadows in which evil dwells – all are the result of brilliant graphic design.
We were treated to something new, yet familiar, as many of the figures recall scenes from the “Hungarian Folktales” series, or even “János Vitéz” (1973) and “White Horse” (1981) (also by Marcell Jankovics). One of the most impressive things is that Jankovics does not present us with a comprehensive visual world, but leads us through the sea of bygone ages, following the path of our Adam, with graphics that reflect the “spirit of the age.”
That is why the 23 years between the beginning and the end of the work do not disappear, and the events of the period are brought to life in the form of Greek vases, Egyptian frescoes of Byzantine mosaics.
But two solutions make this trick even more exciting. On the one hand, for Jankovics and his draughtsmen (as in his earlier work), the ‘real space’ of the stories are always only momentary, allowing us to witness fascinating transformations and dimensional shifts in which the background can at any moment transform into a limb of the main figure, or vice versa, with an ease that borders on abstraction.
Another visual peculiarity is that the director regularly makes the medium of the image an active part of the picture. All this is enriched by music composed by Mozart and László Sáry and enjoyable synchronized acting.
Marcell Jankovics worked for nearly thirty years on the adaptation of the most emblematic play in Hungarian drama.
The animated version of “The Tragedy of Man” was a long and difficult project over many decades (the original idea was conceived in the late 1970s, and by 1983 it had taken the form of a screenplay, and in 1988 the first financial support allowed work to begin.).
The director did not proceed chronologically in drawing the scenes (the Space scene was the first to be made, and the most expensive, London, was the last.); some were brought to life with traditional hand animation and others with computer graphics. Yet it is precisely the basic idea of the language of form, i.e. the different stylistic worlds and cinematic language tools assigned to the scenes, that makes the animated adaptation a coherent whole.
“The Hungarian Odyssey” is also available on Netflix. The streaming service describes the film as a dark, adult animated film and recommends it for ages 16+. True, it’s not designed for children, but the Hungarian rating for the animated film is PG 12.