Comedy · Fantasy

The Enchanting Soviet Cinderella

Zolushka (Cinderella) alskdjf asdjkf Image: media.4local.ru
Zolushka (Cinderella) dreams of dancing and eating ice cream. Image: media.4local.ru

Get this.

Did you know that Soviet filmmakers released a film in 1947 that rivals MGM’s The Wizard of Oz? Yup, when you compare music, sets and costumes, the Soviet film measures up to the MGM extravaganza in nearly every way.

Zolushka is a retelling of the classic Cinderella tale. A loving and sweet-tempered girl lives with her unkind stepmother and two stepsisters, who use guilt and intimidation to keep Zolushka in her place as a servant.

Zolushka truly is a marvel. She cleans the house, gathers heavy firewood and sews her sisters’ ball gowns – all in one evening.

On the night of the ball, Zolushka asks permission to go to the park to gaze at the party from a distance. (Is that not the saddest request you’ve ever heard?) The stepmother agrees but says a few chores must be completed first, such as pulling weeds, sorting beans and painting the house.

This film has a witty script, with some unexpected lines. For instance, a woodchopper says Zolushka’s Step-Aunt was eaten by an ogre, who subsequently died of poisoning. In another scene, the king talks up his princely son by exclaiming, “He can do speeches! And poems! And compliments!”

The script also contains hues of Marxism. For example, the king is friends with commoners, which suggests Soviet society does not contain societal classes. “Because our kingdom is a Fairytale Kingdom for a reason,” he says. (Cough – baloney! – cough.)

The Fairy Godmother, too, is a Soviet Propaganda Tutor. After she transforms Zolushka from girl-in-rags to girl-in-shiny-gown, she offers a little speech: “I can see clearly that, although dressed in a lavish ball gown, you’ll remain the sweet and hardworking girl you’ve always been. And please stay that way. It will bring you happiness.”

This film borrows heavily from folklore. As a result, it has lots of magic. Magic is crucial, but perhaps not so much to the film nor to the girl Zolushka.

The magic is essential for the audience.

The Soviet fairy godmother instructs Zolushka to work hard. Image: sldkfj asdj
Mother Russia – er, the Fairy Godmother showers magic on Zolushka. Image: Zolushka Online

Zolushka was released two years after World War II, and the horrors of that war would still be fresh in the minds of Soviet audiences. While WWII was grisly on all fronts, it could be argued that some of the most gruesome events took place on Soviet soil.

Zolushka’s stepmother, for instance, muses about her future once one of her daughters has married the prince: “It’s a shame this kingdom is too small for me,” she says. “I’ll have no room for my antics. But that’s fixable – I’ll fight my neighbours.” This thinly-veiled reference to Adolph Hitler and his imperialistic tendencies would certainly strike a chord with audiences. (Never mind that the Soviet government had these same tendencies; that’s a discussion for another day.)

Before the war, Soviet citizens would have already suffered from pogroms, forced collectivization of farms, mass starvation, political and military purges, the prison system (a.k.a. the Gulag), and constant surveillance by the NSA, oops, the KGB.

Soviet audiences needed beauty and magic because they were Zolushka – downtrodden souls kept in servitude, living in a dreary, thankless regime. The girl on the screen with the crystal shoes is the embodiment of the Soviet populace. “Happiness has vanished as a mirage,” sings the girl, “and sorrow is in front of me.”

Zolushka is probably one of the most haunting and beautifully-filmed versions of the Cinderella story, if not the most meaningful. Whether or not you have an interest in Soviet-era cinema, we highly recommend it.

Zolushka: Yanina Zhejmo, Aleksei Konsovsky, Erast Garin. Directed by Nadezhda Kosheverova and Mikhail Shapiro. Written by Yevgeni Shvarts. Lenfilm Studio, 1947, Colour, 79 mins.

This post is part of the Fairy Tale Blogathon hosted by Movies, Silently. Be sure to read all the other contributions!

fairy-tale-blogathon-forbidden-fruit

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22 thoughts on “The Enchanting Soviet Cinderella

  1. Totally fascinating movie, and love your look at and comments on it. It’s said that the Soviet and Iron Curtain countries (and I’m sure this applies to all types of dictatorships) produced such a unique blend of sad, funny and clever art because the creatives had to learn to please and praise the powers-that-be as well as slip in veiled/coded messages, if they had them. Great read, thanks for it.

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  2. Ruth, I had never seen Zolushka, but your post was lovely and fascinating, worth looking for it — is it available in the U.S.?

    When my husband Vinnie and I were washing the dishes, I told him about Zolushka. Since we of Team Bartilucci tend to playfully spoof whatever film or TV show we’re talking about at the moment. We started riffing on a mash-up of Zolushka and Mel Brooks’ THE 12 CHAIRS (which is in the same period), not unlike a similar playful riff on CHARADE in the mix. Wish you could have seen it and watched us being our goofy selves! In any case, BRAVA to you on this wonderful post, my friend! 😀

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    1. Ha ha! Sounds great, Dor! I wish I had been there to see it.

      Zolushka is available on YouTube here in Canada, but I’m not sure about the U.S. I hope you get a chance to see it. I think you’d appreciate the very witty lines.

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  3. Another great movie to add to my list, Ruth. I’d be fascinated by its underlying propaganda but your description, comparing it favorably to “oz” has piqued my interest even more. t’s just not the kind of thing I’d expect from post-war USSR, though there definitely was a need for it. THe poor Soviet people suffered a great deal at the hands of the Germans, as well as their own government.
    Have you ever heard the story of how Stalin, in an effort to prove Communism’s benefits over Capitalism, allowed his people to see “The Grape of Wrath.” Rather than walk away feeling that Capitalism had failed us, the movie goers were astounded that in America, even the poorest of the poor owned a truck. 🙂

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    1. I hadn’t heard that story about “The Grapes of Wrath”. Boy, did that backfire on poor ol’ Stalin!

      Yes, those poor Soviet people suffered so much, and there are many in post-Soviet states who still have to put up with poor wages, government corruption, poor roads & water, and distribution systems… The Soviet system of government implemented so many failed policies.

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  4. You had me at The Wizard of Oz! But – amazing as that film is – it sounds like Zolushka lives up to the comparison challenge. I’m always interested to see films that are the product of an entirely different system as the ideas expressed often have their own charm and merit. I’ll certainly keep a look out for this!

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    1. I hope you can see this. It really is worth it – the music and costumes and sets are astounding. A true artistic masterpiece, in my opinion. I’d really be interesting in hearing your thoughts on it if you do get the chance to see it. 🙂

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  5. You make me want to see this one, which sounds charming despite the heavy dollops of Soviet propaganda. When I was a kid, we never got to see Soviet talkies except for Eisenstein’s Alexander Nevsky and Ivan the Terrible. They were great movies, but they weren’t so charming. Thanks for sharing with all of us.

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    1. Now, those are two movies I haven’t seen (Alexander Nevsky & Ivan the Terrible). I’m keen to see Alexander for the film’s sake, but curious to see Ivan to see why Stalin objected to it so much. Thanks for recommending!

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  6. You always find the best movies. Your review is so interesting how you compare Zolushka to the people of Russia after World War II. I really admire your ability to see beyond the movie to the meaning behind it. I would like to see this as I have always enjoyed Cinderella stories. Thanks for making me aware of this one, Ruth!

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    1. Thanks for your nice comments, Shari. This is a really beautiful film. Those Soviet filmmakers spared no expense – everything is top drawer. If you like Cinderella stories, you’ll love this one. The actress who plays Cinderella could not be more charming.

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