Based on an interpretation by Bozena Nemková, this film version of the classic Cinderella tale is a surprisingly charming, sweet, and lively film. It’s no surprise to find out that it has become a Christmas favourite in the Czech Republic, as well as several other European countries, and I would be delighted if more people in the UK discovered it (hint, it’s currently on MUBI, which will probably be the supplier of many upcoming World Cinema Wednesday viewing choices). It may not be one that you rush to every Christmas but it could certainly become a favourite that you end up watching whenever you want something comforting.
The story is one you know, although it’s given a couple of nice twists here to keep things fresh. Instead of fairy godmothers, the main character (a positively luminous Libuse Safránková) gets her magic from some some magic nuts that transform when picked and thrown to the ground. And this Cinderella (credited as Popelka) doesn’t just sit around and wait for her chance to go to the ball and meet a handsome Prince (Pavel Trávnícek). Oh no. Instead, she heads out into the woods and impresses this man with her “horse whispering” and hunting skills. Never fear, however, as there’s still a grand ball to witness, taking place in a familiar final act.
Although I cannot fault the direction from Václav Vorlícek, nor the screenplay by Frantisek Pavlícek, the real pleasure here comes from the lead performances, especially that of Safránková. She really is a delight in every scene, making it just as easy as it should be to root for her to overcome her dire circumstances. Trávnícek has a bit more to overcome, with the prince so often being the weakest character in the story, but he benefits from the script, which plays up his youthful energy over any arrogance or moments of moping around, and brings a spark to the character that makes the potential central pairing all the more pleasing.
There’s not much more to say, really. Rolf Hoppe and Karin Lesch also do well as, respectively, the King and Queen, allowed to spend more time simply being parents than acting like rulers of the land. And Carola Braunbock is a suitably horrible stepmother. The rest of the cast don’t do quite as well, but that’s no big deal when the focus stays so often on this core group. I could say the same about other aspects of the film. There are flaws, yet none of them are big enough to spoil the whole thing. I wasn’t too keen on the soundtrack, there were many moments that felt more like a TV movie, and the first half doesn’t go by quite as briskly as the second half (although it’s worth noting that the duration of the film is a mere 82 minutes anyway, ensuring it doesn’t overstay its welcome). But I didn’t think of those things when the film finished. I just thought about how much I’d enjoy rewatching the whole thing again, and if time had allowed I would have done so immediately.
DIRECTOR: VÁCLAV VORLÍCEK
WRITER: FRANTISEK PAVLÍCEK, STORY BY BOZENA NEMKOVÁ
STARS: LIBUSE SAFRÁNKOVÁ, PAVEL TRÁVNÍCEK, CAROLA BRAUNBOCK, ROLF HOPPE, KARIN LESCH
RUNTIME: 82 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: CZECHOSLOVAKIA, EAST GERMANY
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