Three Wishes for Cinderella (Tri orisky pro Popelku) Review

A charming wintry diversion, the 1973 Czech take on the Cinderella legend has a splendid Eastern European quality to it. Three Wishes for Cinderella (Tri onski pro Popelku) looks and sounds very much like a film of its time and place. As directed by Václav Vorlícek, it has a thick, filmic sheen in appearance that's further highlighted by the snow-covered and forested setting. The instrumental music is too quaint to be shrill. And the beloved and familiar story is a classic of the fairy tale genre. Disney it's not, but there are virtues here you'd never find in American animation.

The rather beautiful Libuse Safrankova plays the title character (Popelku in Czech, Cinderella in English) as a tomboyish dreamer only slightly deterred by her disparaging stepmother. It's the kind of performance that makes impressionable young men smitten with delight. She lets birds fly through the window and help clean up the mess she'd been given. She has a pet horse and an owl. She throws a snowball at a prince, preventing him from shooting a deer. She even dresses up like a boy to ruin another hunting expedition by shooting an arrow through a bird the prince had deemed too out of range. She's kind of a manic pixie dream girl decades before such a thing existed.

Meanwhile, the prince (played by Pavel Travnicek) is dull as dishwater, looking like Alain Delon with less personality. One of the film's unfortunate (if true to life) recurring activities is the prince and his two similarly dressed cohorts hunting innocent wild animals for sport. Cinderella prevents (whether intentionally or by circumstance) the deer being shot but a captivating scene involving a fox has a less happy resolution. Vorlicek films this particular sequence like a nature documentary, with the helpless fox fleeing across the bitter whiteness of the snow and an endless pack of hounds giving chase. Its brevity is understandable but there's enormous beauty and sadness in this little aside.

The fairy tale element in Three Wishes for Cinderella sort of dictates a happy ending, and the resolution here should come as no surprise for most viewers. Regardless, the brevity leading up to our veiled heroine meeting the prince at his ball extends itself nicely into an extended search for the mysterious woman after she ditches his royal highness. This is perhaps, potentially, the most trite development of the story since everyone is already aware of the slipper test, yet it's transformed delicately enough here as to gain traction and drama for exactly how this will all be resolved. The resulting scenes of the prince slumming it with the commoners are alternately highlighted by Travnicek's eternal blankness and the film's overall corniness finally coming full circle. Even if the film is a beloved favorite that's been shown on television for years across Europe, it's still full of silly banalities.

Indeed, the somewhat shopworn nature of the movie makes it an outlier of sorts in the Second Run DVD catalog. The boutique label specializing in otherwise neglected cinema, often out of Eastern European countries like the former Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland, tends more towards the challenging and highbrow than this particular picture. Still, as Michael Brooke makes clear in his video appreciation, this type of film was more characteristic of Czech cinema than the now-heralded New Wave pictures which sold far fewer tickets en route to appeasing cinephiles versus the nation's average cinemagoers. Three Wishes for Cinderella is a blessedly fun watch, especially during the winter months in which it becomes a fireplace-area bit of cinematic warmth. It has enormous potential for recommendations.

The Disc

Second Run brings Three Wishes for Cinderella to region-free UK PAL disc.

The original 1.33:1 aspect ratio is used here. The film has been transferred from a new 4K restoration utilizing the original materials and supervised by the Czech National Film Archive. It looks generally exceptional, with great clarity and strong detail. The one significant, and somewhat surprising, defect in the presentation is the presence of fairly prominent reel change markers throughout the movie. Starting at roughly the 18-minute mark we see a few instances of large black "cigarette burns" in the top right corner of the frame. It's hardly fatal to the enjoyment (and likely owing to a preference for keeping the picture as it would've been seen in its original exhibition) but we've nonetheless grown accustomed to these being scrubbed away when movies are restored and brought to disc. Otherwise, it's a pleasing and superlative viewing experience.

Audio comes via a Czech mono track that sounds about as good as one would want or expect. It's limited by design but otherwise efficient and outstanding. The score, particularly, makes a strong impression clearly and without issue. Optional subtitles are provided in English.

Extras consist of a lengthy video appreciation (32:29 by Michael Brooke on the disc. As usual, Brooke makes some good points while providing excellent background on the film but he sure does speak at a blistering pace here. He's clearly reading with the focus away from the camera while talking a mile a minute. The knowledge being extolled is appreciated but the vessel is at least adjacent to a sort of manic madness.

The disc further has trailers for the original theatrical presentation (2:30) and the 2015 re-release (1:32). There's also an analysis-heavy essay by Tim Lucas in the provided 16-page booklet.

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