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  Princess and the Pea, The You snooze, you lose
Year: 1976
Director: Boris Rytsarev
Stars: Irina Malysheva, Andrei Podoshyan, Innokenty Smoktunovsky, Alissa Freindlikh, Irina Yurevich, Marina Livanova, Svetlana Orlova, Yuri Chekulayev, Alexander Kaliagin, Igor Kvasha, Vladimir Zedlin, Yevgheny Steblov, Vasilik Kupriyanov
Genre: Romance, Fantasy, AdventureBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Adapted from the famous fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson, this lavish Soviet-era Russian production opens on a sign hung from a castle door that reads: “Princess Wanted.” A poor, but kindly King (Innokenty Smoktunovsky) and Queen (Alissa Freindlikh) yearn for a true princess to marry their handsome prince (Andrei Podoshyan) and rejuvenate their ailing kingdom. One stormy night a beautiful girl (Irina Malysheva) seeks shelter at the castle. She claims to be a true princess, but the desperate King is unconvinced and sends his son to find a bride among three neighbouring kingdoms.

He first encounters a lovely princess (Irina Yurevich) so spoiled she finds no value in his gifts of a rare rose or a songbird (“You mean it’s not artificial? How dull!”). Swapping clothes with a swineherd (Vasilik Kupriyanov), the prince charms her with toys in exchange for kisses, until her selfishness wears him down. Next he finds a kingdom whose jovial ruler (Alexander Kaliagin) greets him warmly with gifts of gingerbread, lemonade and chocolate chess pieces, but begs him to forget about courting his daughter (Marina Livanova). All past suitors have died trying to solve three impossible riddles set by the princess, who is secretly in love with a hideous troll (Igor Kvasha). The compassionate prince helps break the spell that keeps the lovers apart, then sadly rides away.

The wittiest, most heartbreaking sequence takes place in the Kingdom of Arts. Here, the prince joins hundreds of poets, painters and dancers trying their utmost to court a gentle, art-loving princess (Svetlana Orlova). Until a violent, arrogant bully-boy comes along, trashes everything in sight and rides away with the smitten girl. Women, eh? Go figure. Returning home, the prince is understandably dejected until his wise mother proves the mystery girl is the princess for him, with the aid of a solitary pea.

Scored with choice excerpts from Antonio Vivaldi’s “Spring” cycle, this elegant and artfully made fairytale boasts more naturalistic cinematography and production design than earlier Russian productions, but is no less ravishing. The sumptuous scenery positively glows and the pseudo-renaissance costumes are charming. In exploring the crucial difference between a true princess and a false one, the film foreshadows Alfonso Cuaron’s masterpiece A Little Princess (1995). A “princess” comes to signify not pampered royalty, but a mark of true grace and feminine power capable of revitalizing what was once barren.

Boris Rytsarev, director of the equally sumptuous [Aladdin’s Magic Lamp (1966), and his screenwriter Felix Mironer do indulge a little padding throughout the episodic narrative, but what works best with these Russian fairytales is their utmost sincerity. There is no room for the post-modern cynicism or off-Broadway caterwauling that mauls modern Hollywood fairytales. Also lookout for the lovely, blue-haired, freckle-faced Tree Fairy. “Why don’t we get your birches and my aspens together?” she asks the flustered prince. Now there’s an offer you can’t turn down.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam

 

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