Mermaid
[Rusalka]

 

Russia, 2007
Color, 115 minutes
Russian with English subtitles
Director: Anna Melikian
Screenplay: Anna Melikian with Natal'ia Nazarova
Cinematography: Oleg Kerichenko
Art Director: Ul'iana Riabova
Music: Igor' Vdovin
Cast: Mariia Shalaeva, Evgenii Tsyganov, Mariia Sokova, Nastia Dontsova, Irina Skrinichenko, Veronika Skugina
Producer: Ruben Dishdishian
Production: Magnum, commissioned by Central Partnership; with assistance from the Federal Agency for Culture and Cinema
Awards: Sundance Film Festival (World Cinema Directing award); Sochi Open Russian Film Festival (Best Actress: Mariia Shalaeva)

Anna Melikan's Mermaid, a hit at several international film festivals, is an excellent follow-up to her 2004 feature debut, Mars. The film, which has been called the Russian Amelie, offers viewers an enchanting narrative coupled with stunning visual composition. Filled with brilliantly conceived shots and rich colors, it follows the story of Alisa (Nastia Dontsova as a child; Mariia Shalaeva as a teenager), a girl who believes she has discovered how to make her wishes come true. After she moves from her seaside hometown to Moscow, Alisa's abilities are put to the test when she tries to win the affections of Sasha, a handsome young businessman (Evgenii Tsyganov). Melikian creates a tragicomedy of love, desire, and alienation by freely borrowing plot elements from the popular fairy tale, which she says she was drawn to because of its unhappy ending, and by playfully combining them with a contemporary Russian setting.

Melikian uses Oleg Rerichenko's remarkable camerawork to generate a striking sense of Alisa's alienation from those around her. Her lack of belonging is highlighted again and again, with shots of her mutely nodding in the opposite direction of the other children in her choir, being left alone on the town square during the solar eclipse, and being guided into a classroom full of children with Downs syndrome after she has decided to stop talking. Her status as a misfit is only reinforced when she reaches Moscow, but there she is joined by an entertaining cast of characters who also fail to belong. Her difference from those around her stands in marked contrast to the banality of her desires: she wants to become a ballerina, meet her father, get into the university, and have a handsome boy love her (none of which is ever fulfilled, even with the help of her magical powers).

This tension between the fantastic and the everyday (as well as a healthy sense of the absurd) permeates every aspect of the film. Advertisements, as ubiquitous in the film as in the contemporary cityscape, take on a life of their own, communicating directly with Alisa, empowering her with their encouraging messages, affirming her desires, and even willfully obscuring her view. The final shot of the film takes this even further, possibly suggesting that, just as the central character in Andersen's fairy tale achieved immortality through her acceptance of god's love, Alisa achieves it by posing as a model for an ad campaign.

The film creates much of its sense of magic by its obsessive reworking of ideas and images in scene after scene. While the remarkable permutations undergone by advertisements are the most striking example, the film's relentless play with perspective is no less important. Narrated by Alisa, speaking to us in the first person, the film contains shot after shot highlighting the perspective of the viewer, the camera, or the character—as in shots taken from Alisa's point of view, in which she appears to be pushing a distant boat with her finger or diverting cars with her hands. In the film's spirit of excess, we are similarly offered an opportunity to explore Moscow from inside a giant foam telephone, encouraged to imagine what Alisa sees as a building-sized advertisement is lowered over the window out of which she gazes, and even made to contemplate perspectives other than that of our narrator when she and another girl both cast a spell on the same boy. This kind of manic work adds a great deal of complexity and fun to the film, allowing it to rely on the narrative devices of fairy tales even as it calls them into question and subverts them.

Driven by Igor' Vdovin's upbeat score, the film is striking in its ability to overwhelm the dark moments that pervade it with the optimism of the central character. From the moment young Alisa dances on bottle-caps until she bleeds—in the first minutes of the film—her life is marked by violence and pain. There are natural disasters and man made ones, riots, suicide attempts and deaths. Despite all of this, however, the film remains remarkably lighthearted throughout, undercutting its violence with humor and its sadness with hope. This hope is, perhaps, the films greatest achievement, because it exists until the very end, in spite of the incredible foreboding and the inevitability of the story's tragic conclusion.

Anna Melikian (1967- )

Melikian was born in Baku and, after working in television and advertising, studied at the State Institute for Filmmaking (VGIK). Several of her student films won awards and her feature debut, Mars, for which she also wrote the screenplay, was financed by Central Partnership and was well received at international film festivals.

Filmography

2007 Mermaid
2004 Mars Link 1 | Link 2
2002 Contrabass (diploma film)
2000 Poste Restante (short)
1999 Let's Fly (short)
1997 Andante (short)

 
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