(2007; Russia; aka Русалка; aka Rusalka)

by Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

To those of you who regularly read my movie and book reviews, my opinion about magic realism will come as no surprise. I hate that twee crap. I hate it so much that it even constitutes a separate rule in the Scoopian Unities. It's called the Marquez Rule, and it reads as follows:

"I know they give all kinds of prestigious prizes to people who write magical realism. Even so, if you write a film that follows a gritty John Steinbeck path for an hour and a half, and then in the last ten minutes, the downtrodden hero escapes from his life by sprouting wings and flying away from the cannery; or if your hero makes the evil slave-driving boss into a nice man by cooking him a meal salted with the workers' tears; I'll have to send your home address to Hannibal Lecter."

But lately I've been thinking that my opinion is based not on the inherent nature of magical realism itself, but on the nature of those authors who have so far been dominating the genre. They're just too damned whimsical and sensitive. I now think it's not magic realism that sucks, but the magical realists. So I'm starting to wonder what could happen if the right people wrote magical realism, like Scots, or Russians. I mean, can you imagine Sean Connery doing any of that cutesy Zooey Deschanel crap that seems to permeate magic realism? Can you see Vladimir Putin being ever so precious? Hell, if you even acted a bit sensitive in his presence, he'd probably reach right into your chest and rip out your heart, like that guy in The Temple of Doom. It's not just Putin. Even the average Russian is rugged, manly, unsmiling and pragmatic; and can usually be found smoking unfiltered cigarettes, drinking vodka by the quart, and clad in combat boots, even during sex.

And the Russian MEN are even tougher.

OK, I know it's an old joke.

Anyway ... there was no magical Soviet realism, was there? So Russian authors could probably save magical realism from itself, just by marrying that much-despised genre with the harsh, traditional elements of Russian storytelling, except for the part about making everything four hours long. I'm thinking that I could probably tolerate some Zooey Deschanel crap as long as Zooey ends up throwing herself under a train in a snowstorm, or dying face-down in a gritty Moscow street. For me, that would have the same cathartic effect that the censors used to demand from American filmmakers in the 30s, when sinners and evildoers had to be punished for their putative misdeeds before the closing credits started rolling.

And you know what? Lately I've seen two Russian efforts at magical realism, and I've enjoyed them both. The first was Absurdistan, which I watched last summer. The second is this film, The Mermaid. The film's heroine, Alisa, can grant wishes and control the elements, but her attempts to do so always end up with Monkey's Paw consequences. Every time she calls upon her powers to aid herself, she wreaks havoc and brings homelessness, despair, and even death to the people around her. One wish ends in a level of devastation that makes Hurricane Katrina seem too weak to ring the wind chimes. And her efforts to aid a man she loves, while they save his life, ultimately result in tragic consequences for about a hundred other people, and for her. She does, in fact, end up dying face-down in a Moscow street.

Now THAT is my kind of magic realism.

To be serious, or at least a bit more serious, I've also discovered that a magical realism pie tastes much  better when leavened by plenty of humor, and this film is pretty damned funny.

So let that be a lesson to you aspiring magical realists: incorporate plenty of humor and plenty of cynicism. In doing so, you may not win the Nobel Prize, but you may do the definitionally impossible, something as oxymoronic as "military intelligence" - you may create something genuine within the most artificial genre of them all, not magical realism per se, but more like "real magic."

This film has a lot of that.




I couldn't find any English-language reviews online.

It did win a direction award at Sundance.


7.1 IMDB summary (of 10)


It grossed about 32 million rubles in Russia on 280 screens.


Mariya Sokova shows everything on the land and in the sea, but she's a little on the plump side, by which I mean that when she was swimming the Orcas showed her professional courtesy.

And then there's Masha Shalaeva, the film's star, who does a brief topless scene. When you look at her you're going to feel like a pedophile. After watching the scene I immediately went to IMDb and checked out her age, because she seems to be about 11. She's 30 now, and was 26 when she made this film, so you can breathe normally. The FBI will not be after your hard disk. At least not for this clip.

The only really attractive woman in the cast is Irina Skrinichenko, who shows her breasts in one scene, and flashes a bit of her pubic area in another. I don't really get into her supermodel body type. She's too thin, and some of her body parts do not appear to be the factory originals. But I think many of you will find her sexy. Even if you don't, the sex scene is pretty funny.



Our Grade:

If you are not familiar with our grading system, you need to read the explanation, because the grading is not linear. For example, by our definition, a C is solid and a C+ is a VERY good movie. There are very few Bs and As. Based on our descriptive system, this film is a:


It is top-notch genre fare. "The Russian Amelie."