In the year 1976 something beautiful emerged from the Soviet Russian film industry like a sea maiden from the ocean, a time in which Russian filmmakers like Dziga Vertov and Sergei Einstein were making iconic films which influence modern filmmakers today- a film of the name “Rusalochka” (“The Little Mermaid” in English), directed by Vladimir Bychkov, a tale adapted from Hans Christen Andersen’s fairytale of the same name. Many Russian films from the 20th century revolve around Soviet and Bolshievik propaganda, but “Rusalochka” was a part of many films made in the 1940s up to the 1970s and 80s which broke from the propaganda films that seemed to be so popular, one in which filmmakers broke from reality and harked back to a time of dashing knights and beautiful mermaids, a time where people truly expected to see mermaids and sea monsters out at sea and unicorns and faeries out on land.
One of the most mentionable aspects of this film is its cinematography and the all around atmosphere of it. In many parts of the film there are techniques used in order to layer different parts of the film to make one part, and the end result creates an illusion that the Little Mermaid (Viktoriya Novikova) is disappearing and reappearing.
This happens when she is still a mermaid when she is spying upon the ship and the people on it, including the (human) Prince (Yuri Senkevich), who the Little Mermaid falls in love with, and also at the very end when she (spoiler) is cursed to walk the earth forever as a result of the Witch’s (Galina Volchek) deal with her- have legs so she can make a connection with the Prince, who she saved from imminent death after she and her mermaid sisters crash the ship. However if the Prince falls in love with another, the Little Mermaid will die, but despite this the Witch gives in a little when the peasant Sulpitius (Valentin Nikulin) protests, with whom the Little Mermaid develops a close friendship. This effect, the name of which escapes me (if it has one), makes the film magical and makes it almost seem as if the Little Mermaid truly is a magical creature and not just an actress with long hair.
Although I never managed to get a decent screenshot of this as I was watching this part of the film, at the very beginning we see mermaids doing some syncronised swimming in the sea as a merman looks on. Now maybe this wouldn’t be so awe inspiring if this film was made in 2018 but this is 1976 we’re talking about, back when they didn’t have many health and safety regulations on set and had no CGI to speak of. The fact they even managed to film underwater is amazing to me.
Another aspect of the film I liked was the costumes. This is so shallow of me I know, but costumes truly do make an atmospheric fantasy film come to life. Imagine how boring “The Lord of the Rings” could have been if Gandalf wore a bin bag and a 2 quid wig he bought from the Halloween section of Asda! Throughout the film the Little Mermaid wore a diaphanous dress with puff sleeves and flowers sewn on the collar, which added to her ethereal, otherworldly nature, since she is a mermaid after all and not human despite appearances, and that is just the Little Mermaid we are talking about.
The ball scene, which is pictured above along with the Little Mermaid, is an excellent example of the beautiful set design and costumes “Rusalochka” has to offer. At the ball the Little Mermaid, after being saved from the dungeon by Sulpitius (who is an example of the kind of friend I need in my life) sits by the Princess (Galina Artyomova), who the Little Mermaid doesn’t know loves the Prince, who encourages her to dance alongside the other nobility at the court. The Little Mermaid takes up on this offer and dances, and we see the set and the costumes of the film in its full glory. The nobility, such as the Princess and the Prince, all wear extravagant court dress, but whether they are entirely historically accurate is beside the point. We are in fairytale land now, historical accuracies are now far behind us! Although I believe the dress of the main Peasant and the other townspeople we see when the Peasant take the Little Mermaid to the Prince are fairly accurate. The dress of the Witch however is understandably elaborated a little bit to show her bombastic nature, since she wears bright colours and a particularly interesting hat which she has pulled pieces of her long hair, now blueish green after the Little Mermaid gave her hair in exchange for legs, which makes the Witch appear bizarre but formidable at the same time.
I think from what I have already written you can tell that I loved this film, but there is one criticism that I can think of, which is the acting. The acting for the most part was decent across the board, although not Oscar-worthy, but still a good effort from the actors, many of whom have now vanished into obscurity. However in places the acting (and singing, since there are two subtle musical numbers) was wooden, especially the Princess who at times didn’t even make an effort to appear convincing, and the Little Mermaid who had the vocal pitch and delivery of a five year old girl but hey! that’s obscure Russian films for you. And it doesn’t matter, since all other aspects of the film were in my opinion sublime. And the Little Mermaid’s bizarrely high pitched voice just emphasised her otherworldy nature.
In conclusion, this film is a forgotten gem of Russian cinema and in fact of cinema in general. The mood and atmosphere of this film is nostalgic and reminded me of my mother’s retro children’s books and is an excellent example of how films, if done well, are timeless and don’t age, just like the Little Mermaid never will. The ending was sad but at the same time happy endings are boring, and I liked how the director stayed faithful to the original Hans Christen Andersen fairytale which isn’t exactly the cheeriest thing to read, giving children a slap in the face from reality. Those who delight in all things ethereal and soft should make a pilgrimage to this film and marvel at its costume and set design.
If you want to watch this film too, the link to the first part of the film is as follows, and the others can be found on the YouTube account AstralTravellingMan, which the link is from. God bless AstralTravellingMan!
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