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  Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair Fairest of all Russian fairytales
Year: 1970
Director: Alexander Row
Stars: Georgi Millyar, Tatiana Klyuyeva, Andrei Katyshev, Mikhail Pugovkin
Genre: FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  10 (from 1 vote)
Review: This wonderful Russian fairytale is a delight for all ages. Once upon a time, the feckless but jovial Tsar Yeremey the Bearded (Mikhail Pugovkin) tours his sunny kingdom, taking an inventory of its treasures. Gazing into a well, Yeremy has his beard grabbed by the hairy, green monster, Chudo Yudo the Lawless (Georgi Millyar), ruler of a subterranean kingdom. In return for his freedom, Yeremey promises to hand over the first thing he finds that is unfamiliar to him, which unfortunately turns out to be his newborn son. The tsar and his minister scheme to swap the infant prince with a peasant child, but unknown to them their nursemaid has second thoughts. Eighteen years later, Prince Andrei has grown up fat and spoiled, while his father mistakenly believes brave, kind-hearted, peasant boy Andrei (Andrei Katyshev) is the real prince. Meanwhile, Chudo Yudo struggles to find a suitor for his lovely daughter Barbara (Tatiana Klyuyeva). With Yeremey’s help he lures the prince into his kingdom, but Andrei the peasant rides to his rescue. Barbara falls in love with the good Andrei and saves the day with her incredible powers of magic and wizardry.

One of the most eye-poppingly colourful films you will ever see, Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair packs a lot into its slender running time. The plot interweaves Beauty and the Beast with The Prince and the Pauper, and invokes the age-old question of nature versus nurture. It deftly balances cartoon gags with witty asides and sly satire to keep adults amused. This being a Soviet production, all the rich folks are selfish dolts whereas the peasants are humble, selfless and true. Yet the tone is benevolent, tolerant of human foibles and generous in spirit. Shaggy, slimy Chudo Yudo isn’t malicious, more like a playful, petulant child, indulged by the worldly-wise daughter he adores. Unlike many fairytales where vice is punished and virtue rewarded with riches, here good behaviour brings friendship (fairies and animals pay back Andrei’s kindness) and love, and punishment isn’t extreme. Almost all the characters are lovable and entitled to some kind of happy ending.

Russian fairytale cinema was dominated by two Alexanders - Alexander Ptushko and Alexander Row, their styles as different as Stanley Donen and Vincent Minnelli’s were at MGM. Row always opens his films with a charming, old lady storyteller who narrates in rhyming couplets. He favours a more frantic pace than Ptushko, with rapid-fire gags and bursts of visual invention. Barbara… is perhaps his most wondrous film, a parade of talking bears, dancing pirates, monsters, magic and fairies. Chudo Yudo’s kingdom is a kaleidoscopic wonderland of dry ice, candy-coloured lights and weird décor. Outstanding set-pieces include surreal dance numbers from each of Barbara’s delightfully eccentric suitors, and the finale where she unleashes her entire box of tricks. Schoolgirl Tatiana Klyuyeva and veteran Georgi Millyar (who often played the wicked witch Baba Yaga in Row’s films) are great fun, but the entire cast perform with appealing sincerity.
Reviewer: Andrew Pragasam


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