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.
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
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
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.