Color, 1973, 82m.
Directed by Václav Vorlícek
Starring Libuse Safránková, Pavel Trávnícek, Carola Braunbock, Rolf Hoppe, Karin Lesch
Second Run (DVD) (UK R0 PAL), Facets (US R0 NTSC)
Color, 1973, 82m.
One of the most popular versions of the Cinderella story in Europe, this German-Czech co-production remains a holiday viewing tradition in many countries but remains strangely ignored in North America. A whimsical and quirky addition to the string of glossy 1970s European fairy tale films (exemplified by several Russian and Eastern European productions, not to mention a pair of Jacques Demy films), it's also one of the best and an essential addition to the long, very diverse history of Cinderella adaptations on screen.
Stuck in an oppressive living situation with her callous stepmother (Braunbock), Popelka (Safránková) has an adventurous spirit but spends her days doing menial housework, riding through the snow, and enjoying a rapport with the local animals (though not of the Disney variety). A local visit from the kingdom's Prince (Trávnícek) and King (Hoppe) marks a hunting encounter that will lead to her using three magic hazelnuts to conspire an entry into the royal ball, where she appears in disguise, much to the consternation of her stepmother and her privileged stepsister.
Derived from the Czech version of the durable fairy tale (originated via cultural word of mouth) rather than the Charles Perrault one more commonly known to English and French-speaking audiences, this will likely be a surprising experience for many as it sticks to the story basics but features a host of different elements (and a complete absence of a fairy godmother). Then again there haven't been too many faithful adaptations of the Cinderella story anyway; both the animated and live-action Disney versions diverge wildly in their third acts, and other big studio variations like Ever After stray away even further. This one definitely features one of the most headstrong and interesting Cinderellas in the form of Safránková (her character's name, Popelka, carries over the cinder/ash theme of her name in most languages), and along with the woefully underrated The Slipper and the Rose, it's one of the finest and most creative dramatizations of the fairy tale. Not to be overlooked is the superb soundtrack by pop specialist Karel Svoboda, who provides a fine instrumental score and a handful of pop songs that paved the way to his popular children's animation work for the rest of his career.
Due to the combination of prominent Czech and German actors, this film was prepared with language tracks in both options with the original actors voicing themselves where possible and dubbed performers handling the rest. The German one has been more commonly seen on TV and home video in westernized countries for many years, and in fact, the Czech version didn't appear on UK home video until the 2016 DVD from Second Run. This edition, culled from a recent 4K restoration, easily surpasses the typically dire 2003 American DVD from Facets (surprisingly, this film is still largely unknown in the U.S. despite that release and a couple of dubbed TV airings). A Blu-ray would be very welcome (it's out as a Czech import), but this is a very clear and sparkling presentation that makes a fine way to make the film's acquaintance. The sole drawback is one that also afflicted Criterion's disappointing edition of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, that revisionist blue tint that's been turning up on too many recent HD restorations; it's not quite as aggressive here, but there's never a true shade of white to be seen (which is odd considering how much snow appears throughout the film). The Dolby Digital Czech mono track sounds great, with literate optional English subtitles provided. In addition to the original and 2015 trailers, the disc includes a thoughtful 32-minute appraisal of the film by Michael Brooke, who covers the film's radically different vocal performances between the two versions, the translation of the film's title (which literally means Three Nuts for Cinderella, but you can figure out the numerous reasons why that was changed), the tradition of fairy tale films in Czech movies, and plenty more. Even more context is provided by the liner notes booklet featuring a new essay by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, who places the film in the context of Cinderella adaptations and the tradition of Eastern European fantastic cinema.