Vasilisa the Beautifl
Director: Aleksandr Rou
(Alexander Row)

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

Vasilisa the BeautiflThe heroine of this wonderful classic film has her name variously rendered into English as Vasilissa, Vassilisa, or Vasilisa, but I prefer the least number of s's. Vasilisa the Beautiful (Vasilisa prekrasnaya, 1939) is completely restored, the extraordinarily artful sets & stunning b/w cinematography as impressive as it was the year it was made.

One may detect some communist politics intruding on the fairy tale a bit. For instance, the fact that the two heroic figures of Vasalisa (V. Sorogozhskaya) & Ivan (Sergei Stolyarov) are peasants plays into socialist mythos, & of the three brides, the haughty noblewoman & the fat merchant's daughter are parodies while Vasalisa a farmer's daughter is perfection. But the filmmakers clearly wanted to tell a good story formost, & bowed to propaganda requirements minimally.

In the main it's told very traditionally, adapted from the tale as given in Alexander Afanaskyev's annotated fairy tale collection Narodnye russkie skazki (Russian Fairy Tales, 1855-1863) patterned on Grimms' Fairy Tales but focused on Russian peasant lore. The look of the film was based on the classic folklore illustrations of Ivan Biliban (1876-1942) & similar artists.

Though a "family" film, in many ways this is deserving of comparisons to German expressionist horror films or to something like Kurosawa's Roshomon (1950), in terms of the fabular content blending with artistic vision.

Vasilisa the BeautiflThree brothers decide to marry. Only one is a good hunter, witty & handsome. The other two (Lev Potyomkin, Nikita Kondratyev) are dufuses.

Two find homely wives (Irina Zarubina, Lidiya Sukharevskaya) by following their own arrows, but the handsome youth's arrow goes into the lake, from which a giant lotus flower arises with a frog inside.

One brother marries a haughty noblewoman's daughter. Another a fat merchant's daughter. And the handsome brother marries the frog, which turns into Vasilisa, the only good wife of the three.

A fairly elaborate fairy tale unfolds with an evil serpent desirous of Vasilisa taking her away by magic. Ivanushka the handsome hunter-farmer sets out on a quest to find the key that opens a secret door, beyond which is the magic sword that can defeat the serpent.

Goymych the Serpent has put witchy Baba Yaga in charge of guarding Vasilisa. Baba Yaga is wonderfully played by Georgi Millyar, who also played the elderly father of the three young men, a marvelously oddball piece of casting.

The sets for the oak forest, Baba Yaga's house, & the serpent's lair are incredibly beautiful & atmospheric. There are so many great scenes -- the tempting of vasilisa in the serpent's palace, the bears that save the life of Ivanushka, the giant riddle-spinning spider, the boiling of Baba Yaga...

Really even the first "mundane" scenes of rurality in medieval times are stunning, whether of the young hunters, a cabbage farmer, goats, cook at a huge clay oven, birch forests, duck ponds -- a visual feast setting a thorough stage for an otherworldly tale.

Svika the supernatural steed & the magic sword come into play for the big scene when the three-headed serpent of fire, water, & wind arrives to do battle with "the poor bumpkin" turned knight. Throughout, Vasilisa behaves as heroically as Ivanushka.

Fairy tale films were a big genre in Russia, adored by viewers of all ages. The standard "Ivan" was the usual hero of these films. There are many fine examples but Vasilisa the Beautiful may well be the best of them all. It won many international awards in its day. It is a true classic of fantasy.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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