Busójáráskor is an ethnographic documentary on the celebration of Busójárás, a six-day festival in the southern town of Mohács, Hungary held each February to mark the end of Carnival season and the death of winter. Busójárás is a tradition of the Šokci people, a South Slavic ethnic group spanning parts of Croatia, Serbia and Hungary who self-identify as Croats. The celebration’s mythology looks back to the 16th and 17th centuries, when the region was under Ottoman rule. The legend states that the Šokci left the town to avoid Turkish troops, living instead in the swamps and forest. One night, an old man suddenly appeared, telling them to carve scary masks and weapons, and that a knight would arrive to tell them when it was time to storm the troops. Wearing animal pelts and carved wooden masks, armed with pikes and spears, and carrying noise-makers, the Šokci stormed the Turks who ran away in fear.
The film shows what a traditional Busójárás celebration might look like, though it would be misleading to consider it a simple documentary. Though there is no dialogue, staged scenes are developed in a linear fashion, with the hazy outline of a love story threaded throughout the tapestry of a narrative. While the film’s ethnographic and educational function is clearly fulfilled, the filmmakers’ consistently breathtaking cinematography, the mixture of traditional Slavic outfits and fantastical monster costumes, and the interplay between humans and seemingly non-human monsters inject a sense of awe and wonder into what could have been quite standard documentary fare. —Herb Shellenberger.