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THREE WISHES FOR CINDERELLA (Tri orísky pro Popelku)(director/writer: Václav Vorlícek; screenwriter: from the story by Bozena Nemcová; cinematographer: Josef Illík; editors: Miroslav Hájek/Barbara Leuschner; music: Karel Svoboda; cast: Libuse Safránková (Cinderella), Pavel Trávnicek (Prince), Carola Braunbock (Mother), Rolf Hoppe (King), Karin Lesch (Queen), Dana Hlavácová (Dora), Jan Libícek (Präzeptor); Runtime: 82; MPAA Rating: NR; Kino/Facets; 1973/Czechoslovakia /East Germany, in Czech with English subtitles)
“More hokey than engaging.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It has been a Christmas tradition in the Czech Republic since its release in 1973. It retells the classic Cinderella fairy tale. Václav Vorlícek directs from a script by Bozena Nemcová. The sweet Libuse Safrankova stars as Cinderella, a maid in her mean-spirited stepmother’s (Carola Braunbock) large farm and mill. The crafty stepmother inherited the rich land when Cinderella’s father died, and treats Cinderella as if she were garbage while she pampers her fatty daughter Dora with loving adoration.

To compensate for her loneliness Cinderella makes friends with a variety of animals such as her white horse Jurasek, her dog Silly-Billy, and her owl Rosie. Her stepmother has regular punishments for Cinderella that involve doing cleaning chores, as she can’t help saying and doing nasty things to her. The stepmother will spitefully drop a pot filled with peas and ashes whenever she wants to and tells Cinderella to separate them. To the rescue come a bunch of white pigeons that seem to communicate with Cinderella. They do all the separating. I guess the moral is, it pays to make friends with animals.

The big event for the stepmother is that the king and queen are returning for their annual visit to their country castle which is nearby the farm, and the mother connives to get invited to the ball so her real daughter can snag the handsome prince (Pavel Trávnicek) for a husband.

The prince disturbs his loving father by always hunting with his two friends instead of studying with his tutor. The king feels he can remedy the situation by forcing his son to choose a bride from among those he invited to the ball. Before the ball, the playful and ashen faced Cinderella comes upon the prince in the woods and throws a snowball at him so he can’t shoot a deer. The three friends chase after but can’t catch her.

When a servant goes by horse sled to town to get fancy dress material for his lady boss, the princess playfully shoots down from a tree with his cross-bow three hazel-nuts to awaken the napping driver. The servant gives these hazel-nuts to Cinderella as a gift. They turn out to be magical, and she is granted three wishes. Opening the first nut, she receives the fancy hunting clothes of a man and goes out to the woods. She dazzles the prince with her ability to use the cross-bow to shoot down a bird soaring in the air (I thought this changed the impression that she was a true animal lover). The prince gives her a ring for being the best hunter that day, thinking that he’s given it to another male hunter (male chauvinism must have blinded him, because the hunter still looked like a female).

The next time Cinderella meets the prince is at the ball. She gets her second wish, a beautiful gown and attends wearing a veil. The prince’s heart melts when seeing her, and while dancing he asks for her hand in marriage. She gives him three riddles and says she won’t marry unless he can answer them. She then runs out of the ball, but loses her slipper. The prince and his two homeboys chase her to the farm, and the prince after lining up all the servant women says whoever fits this slipper is the one I will marry. Meanwhile the fatty mother and daughter team return and connive to fool the prince into marrying Dora. Cinderella uses her last wish for a wedding dress. And, as they say in the sporting world: that’s all she wrote.

I don’t see what the Czechs and the East Germans see in this updated fairy tale but, then again, I don’t live behind the Iron Curtain. It makes for a passable children’s film, one shot in starkly beautiful black-and-white colorings where the white snow glistens and the woods are idyllic. But I found the tale more hokey than engaging, and the whimsical mood it set was hardly any fun.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”