Vasilissa the Beautiful (1939)

Vassilisa the Beautiful (1939) still

director Aleksandr Rou
viewed: 04/04/2014

For some time, I’ve been wanting to watch an Aleksandr Rou film.  Following the writings of Scumbalina on her sadly not so frequently updated blog Atomic Caravan, I read about two Rou films that I have not been able to get a chance to see, Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors (1964) and The Golden Horns (1973).  The only Rou film available from Netflix was a much earlier fantasy film, Vasiissa the Beautiful.

I know very little about Aleksandr Rou and little about Russian folklore and fairy tales, though that seems to be where he spent most of his career in cinema.  I don’t know where Vasilissa stands in his oeuvre, I also don’t know how long I will have to wait to see the films that Scumbalina wrote about.

But I can say this: Vasilissa the Beautiful is a gorgeous, wonderfully shot fairy tale film, featuring some marvelous effects, make-up, costumes and set design.  To be fair, some of it is less wondrous than others, but the images that Rou evokes that are his richest are brilliant and beautiful.

Apparently, from what I’ve read, the film is actually based on a different Russian fairy tale than that of Vasilissa the Beautiful.  I don’t know.  But the story is about a Russian peasant lad who, following his brothers’ lead,  shoots an arrow into the air randomly to find a wife.  While his brothers snag two rather unworthy lasses, his arrow lands near a frog in a pond, who he brings home just the same.  It turns out that this frog is Vasilissa, a beautiful woman, entrapped in frog form by an evil dragon.  When the dragon finds that she’s escaped, he sends back for her to become his wife.  The lad must go out on a quest to rescue Vasilissa and make everything happy for ever after.

I usually try to find an original movie poster to illustrate my blog posts, but for Vasilissa I settled for a screen still, which is actually quite nice.  It’s a matte painting of a forest and I think a very good example of the beauty of Rou’s sets and designs.  They are luxurious and massively evocative.  It’s not just the sets but the costuming and effects as well.

One of the film’s most impressive effects seems relatively simple in a way.  When the lad gains the sword he needs to fight the dragon, he slices the darkness and it shatters.  I could guess how this was accomplished, but the effect is so striking (see below).

Vasilissa the Beautiful (1939) shatter effect

Not all of the effects live up to this.  The big finale with the three-headed dragon is sort of disappointing by comparison.  It’s nicely designed but its heads flop about as clearly the puppet that it is, lacking the vigor or magic that it really needs.  It does look nice.

I was duly impressed by Aleksandr Rou’s Vasilissa the Beautiful and I eagerly await a chance to see more of his films.

 

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