The Night Before Christmas


Director: Aleksandr Rou
Year: 1961
Rating: 7.5
Country: Russia

AKA - Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka

It is in fact the night before Christmas and all through my house (apartment) all is quiet not even a mouse. Nor I hope a louse. Just the sound of a TV playing a Christmas movie full of good cheer. And it is from Russia where good cheer is usually accompanied by large doses of vodka. I came across this lovely fairy tale that was adapted from a Gogol short story on YouTube. It is beautifully shot with deep rich colors and a wonderful use of Russian faces adorned with walrus moustaches or weather beaten looks.

In the Soviet Union during the days of Stalin, where one wrong move could end up with you on a long train trip to Siberia, one of the safer genres in film were fairy tales. The director of this one, Aleksandr Rou, is considered the preeminent director in this field. Folk tales of peasant life - the most Russian of Russia - the salt of the earth - was considered separate from Bolshevism but compatible with it. Rou directed his first one, The Magic Fish, in 1938 and followed that up with Vasilisa the Beautiful in 1940. Others like Cinderella, The Humpedback Horse, The Magic Weaver and a few others were to follow. I don't know about the others but if they are like this one they are mainly meant for children but I think adults can appreciate them as well just for the cleverness of the primitive special effects, the design, the photography and the sense of magic in the air.

There is no Santa Claus in this tale - but there is the devil who looks like a wild hairy dog with a long tale, horns and the snout of a pig. He shows up the day before Christmas in a small village in the Ukraine mainly to cause mischief as his powers seem quite limited. The village folks are full of fun, gossip and ribaldry as they play in the snow, sled down hills and gather gifts in sacks as they go from home to home singing carols. Three men attempt to seduce the widow Solokha and in a standard bedroom farce they all end up hiding in burlap bags full of coal dust. Eventually they end up left on the side of the road where they are mistaken for abandoned sacks of gifts.

Oksana is the village beauty with her red cheeks, big flirtatious smile, crystal cobalt eyes and plump figure. The blacksmith Vakula is madly in love with her but she just gives him a playful offer - if he can give her the slippers of the Tsarina, she will marry him. He almost gives in to the devil's offer but instead catches him by the tale and forces him to fly to the Winter Palace where he meets the Tsarina. The film is full of various larger than life characters - often drunk or spreading gossip - and they all make for a charming 68 minutes. I will have to look and see if any of the director's other films are up on YouTube.