Film Reviews
Photo courtesy of Deaf Crocodile

Released for the first time in the U.S., in a 4K restoration, Hungarian writer/director József Gémes’ 1983 “Heroic Times” brings a folklore legend to life. Gémes chose oil painting for his gorgeous, animated film, an adaptation of János Arany’s nineteenth century poem trilogy celebrating folklore hero Miklós Toldi, a fourteenth century nobleman and warrior serving Hungarian King Louis the Great.

He leads soldiers to glorious victories with the mighty sword of his father, killed when Toldi was a child. But first, storm clouds loom as Toldi becomes an orphan and a serf, his cowardly, resented older brother the rightful heir who taunts Toldi and provokes his rage. Eventually becoming a knight, Toldi continues to contend with triumphs, defeats, disguises, and duplicity, love and fate, eventually pledging himself to honorable behavior. As narrative relief, pastoral scenes repeatedly punctuate harsh ones, offering an alternative, pleasing reality.

Toldi, believed now to be an actual historical person, enjoys extraordinary strength, demonstrating his superior power in individual medieval contests and massive battles. Upon occasion, his anger and jealousy defeat his better intentions, causing distress. Characteristic of legends, Toldi’s story teaches lessons about murder, war, greed, and ambition. As Toldi explicitly states in his voiceover narration, “We are yearning for light and clarity, yet our mundane passions keep on polluting our pure goals with the mire of sin.”

Writer/director Gémes delivers dynamic action as well as more contemplative moments through vibrant colors and interpretive music. Throughout, the magnificent animation powerfully present events, especially swirling clouds, movement through brush, and battle scenes with galloping horses. The unique hand-painted frames took ten artists four years to complete with six hundred different backgrounds and thirty thousand cels.

Still celebrated, a statue of Toldi honors him in Budapest, Hungary. In Hungarian with English subtitles, the U.S. premiere of “Heroic Times” screens at Webster University’s Winifred Moore auditorium Friday, July 28, through Sunday, July 30, at 7:30 each of those evenings. For more information, you may visit the film series website.

Related Articles

Sign Up for KDHX Airwaves newsletter