Partly based on S.T. Aksakov’s nineteenth-century Russian transmutation of “Beauty and the Beast,” with an unwieldy bit of Pushkin’s “Queen of Spades” thrown in, Alenkiy tsvetochek promises a uniquely female perspective on its fairy-tale material. The movie was scripted by Natalya Ryazantseva and directed by Irina Povolotskaya.
Three daughters ask their merchant-father to bring them back gifts from market; two make indulgent requests, while Alyona asks only for the scarlet flower that appeared to her in a dream. Lev, struck by flashes of the blossom, becomes so obsessed with granting his favorite daughter her heart’s desire that he loses both wagon and wares to the river. A stranger appears, directing him to row across river to the castle, where he dangerously enters his daughter’s dream. From the castle grounds he plucks the scarlet flower and is imprisoned by the tree-beast. Taking her father’s place, Alyona falls in love with the shy beast, who becomes a prince.
With Aleksandr Antipenko’s gorgeous, limpid color cinematography, Konstantin Zagorsky’s exquisite eighteenth-century Russian baroque sets, Edison Denisov’s lilting music, and a modest message that one should not divide one’s heart from kindness or from love, Povolotskaya’s gentle erotic fable provides a feast of feeling and a flow of images, very often in long-shot, that wed the viewer’s eye to an enchantment of spirit. You will not find here the consideration of subjugation and liberty that gives Jean Cocteau’s La Belle et la Bête (1946) its political spark, nor any of the smirking self-awareness that mars the Disney animated version (1991). Povolotskaya’s take on the material is a film—indeed, a world—unto itself. It’s almost pure romance, with a hint of Shakespeare’s Tempest floating in and about as Alyona finds a transformative alternative to an imminent risk of incest.
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