How Jankovics Marcell isn’t on every short list of animation’s all-time masters, I will never understand. His Feherlofia remains one of the most beautiful films I’ve seen, and although I haven’t had a chance to see his 2011 masterwork The Tragedy of Man, it looks like one of the rare projects that actually lives up to its 30-years-in-the-making myth, animating history through era-appropriate styles. His mastery of movement, form and colour is absolutely breathtaking.

His 1974 short Sisyphus only uses two of the three, sticking to black-and-white for its two-minute run, but it is a masterclass in animated elegance. The way he alters the level of detail as Sisyphus strains in his task, from flexed muscles to smooth forms to something like a calligraphic stick-figure, a few evocative brush strokes that leave the image largely implied—it conveys energy and exertion and outright exhaustion with a practiced efficiency that’s nowhere near as simple as it seems. The soundtrack (apparently recorded by Marcell himself as he pushed against a wall) is overbearing at times, a little too realistic for the otherwise impressionist film, but the actual movement is almost painfully visceral.

Marcell gives his Sisyphus a slightly different ending than the typical myth, which has the tragic figure cursed to forever push a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back to the bottom again and again. The task still seems eternally unfinished in this version, but it at least gives Sisyphus an illusion of forward momentum, without the frustration of seeing his work reset after every effort. Whether that’s more optimistic is hard to say, but given how vividly Marcell shows the effort, it’s certainly a bit more merciful.

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