director Aleksandr Rou
I’m still new to the Russian Fantastika film and the work of Aleksandr Rou, but I’m a readily growing fan of the form and the director. I’ve seen two other films of his, Vasilissa the Beautiful (1939) and Maria the Wonderful Weaver (1959), but this was the first time I’d ventured a go with one of my kids, even though these are essentially children’s films. The films are subtitled which could daunt some kids, but Clara took to the film pretty readily herself.
I don’t know if it’s just the random smattering of Rou’s films that I’ve seen or just the consistency of folkloric narratives but the stories all kind of run together in my brain, even after just watching this one it echoes of the others.
In this case, there is a tsar who gets his beard grabbed by a magical being while drinking from a well. The being, Chudo-Yudo (pictured above) tells the tsar that he must give him anything in his kingdom of which he is unaware (the tsar has spent the beginning of the picture numerating everything in his realm and marking it down). The tsar agrees only to find out that he didn’t know that he had a brand new baby son. Conspiring with one of his advisers, the tsar trades out his baby for the baby of a local fisherman (although this goes awry when a soft-hearted conspirator can’t go through with it), so that if Chudo-Yudo comes for the kid, he’ll get the wrong one.
However, it’s years before Chudo-Yudo acts, looking to find a groom for his daughter, Barbara the Fair, who has magical abilities and a poor list of goofy suitors. To boil down a rather convoluted plot, the strapping young fisherman’s son (the fisherman’s real son as opposed to the tsar’s spoilt heir) eventually saves the day and gets to marry the beauty.
There are lurid colors and wonderful set designs, some impressive make-up and some interesting buildings…and even acting bears (does every one of these films have acting bears?) This film is made 30 years Vasilissa and 10 years after Maria yet the feeling and sensibilities seem to have changed little if at all. I consider this in contrast to American fantasy films of the time (I noted a comparison to some of Ray Harryhausen’s films before), but I don’t know what else to say. I would love to know more about the genre and the films.
Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair is as good as the others, perhaps better than Maria but I think Vasilissa is still my current favorite. I still want to tip my hat to Scumbalina, who has posted a nice list of films of the genre that I will consider now a list of films to see.