Here comes another Christmas recommendation. First and foremost I have to say that I do not belong to the people, probably the generation, for whom the 1973 Czech / German coproduction Three Wishes for Cinderella is a classic that has to be watched every Christmas. I have only recently seen that movie for the first and only time, even though it is one of those movies that is on German TV every Christmas, just like Dinner for One is always on on New Year's Eve. I am not really aware of how it is for the anglophone countries. When I tried to check it out on youtube there were also English comments claiming that that movie was a childhood favourite and the upload was much appreciated. However, since I wasn't even aware it was such a popular movie in Germany until my mother told me about it, I really can't make a guess about its international popularity. I am not even sure if there is a proper English dub available.
Cinderella deviates from the "original story" that we know from, for example the Disney movie, in the fact that Cinderella doesn't get a visit from her fairy goodmother but instead by chance she is presented with three magical hazelnuts. Each of those hazelnuts will grant her one wish, which in the story are a huntsman's outfit, the famous Cinderella ballgown and finally a beautiful wedding dress. Plus, the Cinderella in this story is a much more feisty and bold young lady, throwing a snowball at the young spoiled Prince when she comes across him for the first time. But more on the character of Cinderella later.
The overall movie, even though it is of course not comparable to the movies of today just exudes an air of real magic and beauty. Most of the movie was filmed in Saxony, Germany and the real snowy landscapes are some of the most beautiful landscapes I have seen on TV. The German expression "wie im Märchen" - like in a fairytale - springs to mind immediately. Then there is also something extraordinary about the costumes that I just can't quite put my finger on. I think it may have to do with the fact that today's productions that are set in medieval times or fantasy worlds always aim for a sort of grimy and realistic factor, making everything look a bit damp, cold and uncomfortable... the way the actual middle ages were after all. But in that old movie, naturally, all the costumes are done really beautifully, even if realism might suffer a bit from that. But paradoxically, for some reason the costumes from this movie look "more real" to me than the costumes that you will find in movies these days. I can't really explain it, I guess you have to see it for yourself.
What I find really extraordinary about the movie however is how the role of young Cinderella is changed. Maybe Cinderella is one of the most active "princesses" to begin with, if you look at the canon of Disney princesses, but Three Wishes for Cinderella takes it all a step further. When Cinderella meets the Prince in the forest for the first time she throws a snowball at him, preventing him from shooting a deer with his crossbow. Together with his friends he tries to chase her down but she cleverly escapes the guys numerous times and when she is finally confronted with the Prince she just laughs at him instead of being intimidated by his authority. The second time they meet is at a hunting party and she disguises herself as a young huntsman. She sets her sights on the eagle that the Prince is trying to shoot and manages to capture it before he's even ready. Then the hunting party asks her to show her marksman skills some more and she earns a jewelled ring from the Prince, still not telling him her name. Finally, as Cinderella goes to the ball at the castle she wears a veil that hides her face and the Prince is very intrigued by her. While he dances with her, he declares that he has already decided to marry her. But Cinderella stops him and reminds him that he has forgotten the most significant thing: To ask her if she wants to marry him! She leaves him with a riddle about her identity and runs from the palace at midnight.
The Prince, puzzled, picks up her slipper and vows to find her no matter where she is. When he finally does find her and she is waiting for him in a beautiful wedding dress, he does solve the riddle about her identity and it is only then, when he realises that she's been both the little insolent girl and the remarkable young huntsman, that she can accept him and they can live happily ever after. Even though at heart, this is still a silly little fairytale, the added elements really make it quite valuable, especially since Cinderella in that adaption isn't your usual inactive princess that is just desperate trying to get married. I guess this film shows some of the better elements of socialism - the ideal of gender equality and the disdain for monarchy, as the Prince is mostly depicted as spoiled and silly. Even though the reality might have looked different it is still great to see such an adaption and if you consider that this movie will soon be 40 years old, its depiction of a strong female overtakes many depictions of females we get in contemporary cinema.
In the end Three Wishes for Cinderella is an extremely beautiful movie and if you have a chance to catch it on TV I definitely recommend watching it. I feel like every country has brought forth some really nice productions at some point and for Czech cinema that's probably this movie as well as imaginative productions like "Arabela" (German title: Die Märchenbraut), which were very popular on German TV as well.