Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Unrequited Love and Russian Mermaids

Valentine's Day is finally over. I can come out now. I had my hands over my eyes, at least mentally, that entire day. But no one can really hide from it, whether they have the prescribed reason to celebrate or not. Finding little boxes of chocolate on my desk from sweet office mates brought a smile to my face. I discovered a heart drawn my attendance sheet and got a "Happy Valentine's Day" from a tardy, but well-meaning kid. I had three books lined up to read, papers to grade, and little writing assignments to finish. But, as it usually happens, the tricky feelings on this day can sneak into your heart even at its' busiest stages. I was not immune. I leaned back in my chair and stared up at the uninspiring ceiling when the feelings first surfaced. "Bah humbug," I muttered, but I couldn't say it with real conviction. I do love this Hallmark holiday. But it never fails to make me feel bad.

This year's V-Day special was a delightful, double-helping of unrequited love. The dish was made of china with delicate pink flowers as a border and the frustrated confusion that sat steaming on the pretty plate had a particularly strong oder. I'm no stranger to it, but the red balloons and stuffed chocolates seem to demand I face it head on with grim satisfaction. Well, so be it. I'm certainly no stranger to it.

It's always a comfort to think of something similar in such a situation - remembering that you're not the only one in the world going through such a trial is hugely effective. So when I tried to push the plate away yesterday, pinching my nose closed and squirming, I thought of Anderson's The Little Mermaid. More specifically, I thought of the Russian film version of it, Rusalochka (1977) by the Gorky Film Studio. It's sitting on my shelf even as I type this, just waiting to be watched again - but a huge portion of the film is on Youtube in clips. That's how I found it in the first place. If any version of The Little Mermaid has ever played up the unrequited love theme, it is certainly this one. And how our mermaid suffers.

What I like most about Russian retellings of fairy tales (and what makes it so easy to sit through strange acting and stranger dubs) is that you can tell how much love and care the crew put into the videos. The costumes are stunningly beautiful (as the actors/actresses can be) and each scene is crammed with little charming details and wonder. Rusalochka is no different.

The plot is essentially the same as Anderson's tale, but with a few surprising and creative changes. A list format for this would be best:

1. The little mermaid receives help from a traveling actor named Sulpitius.
2. The witch is a human who runs the local tavern and bargains for the mermaid's green hair.
3. The human princess (the one who finds the prince on shore) is a horrible, selfish creature.
4. The little mermaid can speak (and when she does, a little bell chimes - indicating the power and beauty of her voice).
5. The Prince participates in a duel to win the selfish princess' affection and actually DIES. The little mermaid and company band together and bring him back to life, at the cost of him never being able to know her.
6. Sulpitius sacrifices his life for the little mermaid so that she won't die after losing the Prince. She will take up a new occupation though, haunting the prince for the rest of his life. Woah.

Crazy, eh? If you don't believe me, you should definitely check it out. Youtube, as I said, offers most of the movie, but you wouldn't know you were missing a chunk unless, well, you read my list. The whole part where the Prince dies in the duel is sadly missing. Well, that's why I have the DVD. Strangely enough, the dubbing runs through the entire movie EXCEPT FOR THE MUSICAL NUMBERS. Whut. The music is pretty awesome because it is just plain silly. Silly and catchy. I feel like I'm missing out by having it suddenly switch back. I guess the dubbers didn't want to tackle the epicness.

Another thing: Prince Antoine is a very handsome young man, but extremely one-dimensional. When my friends and I watched it, we grinned with mirth and called him Stone Face, haha. He can't really get his face to morph into any particular emotion. But I applaud him for trying. Most of the Russian princely character have this problem (yes, I've watched a lot of these, haha).

Everyone knows that unrequited love is the key ingredient for any mermaid story (or any mildly interesting life). I'll finish this bittersweet post with the ending of Rusalochka; Sulpitius disguises himself in a silly mask to challenge the Prince to a duel, thus giving him the opportunity to die and save the little mermaid. You may notice that the sword fight it a little corny. That's okay. Obviously, the Prince isn't a vicious (or skillful) fighter:

Sulpitius: You've been looking for your dream. And you have overlooked it. It is the Little Mermaid!

If only we all had a Sulpitius to jump into action and speak the truth. And if not truth, perhaps announce a strong conviction of feeling that would have otherwise went unnoticed due to unfortunate circumstances. The story of The Little Mermaid continues to exist to sprinkle mermaid's salty tears upon our own wounds, upon the soft bruises of our hearts. Perhaps the sting will be the first sign of healing.


  1. this sounds like a really cool version, thanks for posting about it!

  2. The Little Mermaid was always one of my favourite Andersen tales, as a child (and still is!). If anyone mentioned the Disney version I would roll my eyes and tell them everything that was wrong with it. Haha. I was such a little purist. ;)
    This verson looks really interesting! I may have to watch it. I can excuse them changing other parts but I'm glad they didn't make it end happily. That would have been wrong! (What can I say? I'm still a bit of a purist! :P)

  3. @hila No problem! I'm glad to share it!

    @Melee Same here - I actually watched the Disney movie almost everyday as a kid, haha! My mom would always put it on and I would watch like a zombie. When did stumble on the Anderson version for the first time, it was through an anime version that my parents had let me rent from Blockbuster. I was so tramatized by the ending that it is said (gosh, I was so young) that I cried for a realy long time. My parents came running down to the basement when they heard me start, and they couldn't do much to get me to stop bawling.

    So. Yeah. Haha. It was pretty brutal for me. Now that I'm older though, I do like the sad ending. It's not always easy to handle the first time around for me in a new retelling, but I'm okay with it. I do like happy endings, but it's more exciting when it ends a little differently. You know what I mean? I once had a little mermaid book where, at the end, the prince drank a potion and joined the mermaid under the sea. No joke! I have to buy another copy of that one. :D

    BTW, I can totally relate. I'm at least 88% of the time a purist :D

  4. Awww - poor little you! That's kind of funny... but pathetic.
    Yeah, sometimes ending twists are fun! Haha, oh goodness! That's quite interesting! I like it, though... =D

    Haha. I can't decide what percent of the time I'm a purist... somewhere in the early 90's probably. ;)

  5. I'm definitely going to watch Rusalochka, thank you for introducing me to it!...I felt relatively the same way on valentines day this year, but never fear because two months from that day of the 1 + 4 of February...it is black bean day...where we can be cool and sophisticated singletons, this is my valentines post...

  6. @Melee Haha, true, true. I kind of like telling that story. I feel as though my feelings aren't as transparent as they used to be as a child, and I miss that :)

    @All the time in the world Yay! I'm so glad you will. It's just so much fun to watch. Yes! I went and read your post about Black Bean Day - that is so fascinating! Thank you for sharing!

  7. This sounds like such a beautiful and haunting version. I loved disney when I was a young girl, but now as I am older and reading the true versions of the fairytales I find that I like them better. They have more depth and make you think more. Lovely post!

    xx and hugs


  8. Oh this looks beautiful! I always love fairy tales and fairy tales retellings. How magical!

    p.s. thank you for all of your wonderful commets on my blog. And thank you for following and commenting on The Woodland Library. it makes me so happy!

  9. @Jhordyn Thanks! Yeah, there is something wonderful about being able to enjoy the grown up versions of fairy tales. Still, I like having the choice in which ones I like the most :)

    @MJ No problem! I love reading your blog posts, but I also like the books you've chosen for your book reviewing blog - it's so rare for me to find someone that likes the same types of books, so I value your opinions of the ones you read :D