Wednesday, June 15, 2011

From Mermaid to Moon Girl

I didn't know what to expect in Rusalka, the second film by Anna Melikian.  I think she drew more from the mythological creature that has long been part of Slavic mythology  than she did Hans Christian Anderson's classic fairy tale, which Chip Crane notes in his review in Kinokultura .  Alisa embodied many ghost-like qualities, although she found herself having a hard time casting her charms on those around her.

It is a fractured fairy tale of a girl born of an incident by the sea where her mother makes love to a sailor on the Crimean shoreline near the end of the Soviet era.  Young Alisa has a hard time reconciling her lowly place in life, her thwarted dreams and the fantasy she holds of her father returning one day to lift her out of the seaside hovel she lives in with her mother and grandmother.  When a sailor does come one day, her spirits are temporarily lifted, only to sadly find out he is looking for room and board.  An eclipse literally leaves her speechless, after which she is placed in a school for disabled children, here she learns to tap into her hidden powers thanks to an autistic boy who chalks up the apples he makes fall from trees.  Summoning up all her newly discovered powers, she calls on the sea to lay waste to the village, and the family is forced to move to Moscow.

This doesn't initially impact her lowly station in life.  Still mute, she picks up odd jobs around the city while her mother works in a large supermarket.  She finds herself drawn up in the glamour of Moscow life when a large canvas advertisement is hoisted over the facade of their building.  She cuts an opening out of the eye of the cosmetic beauty on her eighteenth birthday.  Steeped in symbolism, the "mermaid" becomes urban myth, as she still finds herself able to alter events if she puts her mind to it.  But, ultimately she finds herself thwarted from her ambitions, which she takes from the billboards around town, and is ready to leap off one of the bridges when a young man appears out of the blue and plunges into the Moskva River.  She dives in, rescuing him from the river and wakes up the next morning in his lavish apartment.

But, Melikian is not content to make this a happy story.  Sasha doesn't show much interested in Alisa, mistaking her for the cleaning lady.  Sasha is a purveyor of fantasies, selling land plots on the moon to Moscovites who need an escape from the rough and tumble city.  Sadly, this doesn't seem to give Sasha much satisfaction beyond the lavish lifestyle he is able to afford, making him prone to bouts of depression which lead him to attempt suicide.  He has an attractive girlfriend in Rita but becomes increasingly curious in Alisa, who has dyed her green in an effort to change her life.  Not much of a "love triangle," but it provides the necessary tension for the powerful closing scene.

The film offers a bittersweet view of contemporary Moscow, where the cost of living is so far out of reach to the majority of its denizens, that it might as well be the city in Luc Besson's The Fifth Element.  It was Leeloo that gave Alisa the inspiration to transform her life.  All of it comes crashing to an end like a fairy tale tragically cut short.

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