Our holiday-time movies (and children- and family-oriented movies in general) are very different than what people are used to here in the States. First of all, we don't celebrate Christmas - we celebrate the New Year (with all the same accessories - the tree, the gifts, the works). Christmas is celebrated later - on January 7th, but more as a family dinner than as a gift exchange. And, while there are a few favorites that are traditionally watched around that time of the year, I can't think of any of them that put emphasis on "holiday spirit" or anything like that. So, if the thought of Santa Clause 3 is making you shudder, and if your tape of How the Grinch Stole Christmas is as worn out as ours is, here are a few holiday favorites from my childhood and teenage years. (Note: most of these are probably not available in English, but they do come with English sub-titles, although some of the humor might be lost in translation.)
Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath - the reigning champion of Soviet era holiday movies to this day. It was created the year I was born (1975) and as far as I know, my family and friends who still live in Russia and Ukraine still watch it every year. How far away are you from going to a bath house and getting drunk with your friends, who load you onto a plane from Moscow to St. Petersburg, to finding the love of your life? If this question interests you, go get the movie and find out.
Three Wishes for Cinderella - a lovely spin on the familiar fairy tale by the Czech cinematographers. While the story has nothing to do with the New Year celebrations, it does take place in winter. This Cinderella is somewhat akin do Danielle in Ever After: she is an excellent horseback rider (both side saddle and Western style), an undefeated archer and is generally not a shrinking violet. The Prince is also far from the incipid character from the Disney classic. He is not a bad kid, but is quite a spoiled brat who plays hooky with his friends instead of studying state law and the art of conversation. The starring actors make an incredibly good looking couple, the sites and costumes are gorgeous and the music is great!
The New Year Adventures of Masha and Vitya - ok, this one does have something to do with the holidays, because the two kids from the movie's title are on a mission to rescue Snow Maiden (who is a prominent character in our New Year traditions along with Grandpa Frost - our version of Santa Claus). The two heroes are sort of a pint-size version of John Steed and Emma Peel: Masha (a derivative of the name Maria) is well-read and well-versed in the matters of magic (very useful, considering they have to deal with a lot of magical stuff along the way), Vitya (a derivative of the name Victor) is a techno geek who makes things work, when magic refuses to cooperate.
Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka - is based on a series of stories by Mr. Gogol - the same gentleman who wrote The Dead Souls. Boy meets girl, but she won't marry him until he brings her the shoes that the Empress wears. The boy's mom is a witch in cahoots with the Devil. The Devil steals the moon. The boy catches the Devil and beats him into releasing the moon and taking him to the Empress to get the shoes, but that might cost him his soul. Good family fun! This one is actually available in English voice-over.
Adventures of Captain Wrongel - the last name of the good Captain says it all. You can only imagine the twists and turns of his mission, as he tries to win a yacht race, outrun a bunch of gangsters and restore a stolen statue to a museum. Again, nothing to do with the holidays, but they showed it every year during our New Year's break, and I watched it until I was 18 and would watch it again today.
Father Frost - aside from being a lovely fairy tale, this is also a great example of what the Soviet film-makers could do (and did) with their limited budgets, politically-driven movie guidelines and the government constantly breathing down their necks. This movie is visually stunning - so much so, that even Steven Spielberg felt compelled to compliment the director of this and many other Soviet-time fantasies - Alexander Row.
The last, but not the least - two more non-holiday-related holiday time favorites that might be interesting to the American viewers, because both stories have been recreated in the American cinematography. Good Bye, Mary Poppins! is our spin on Mary Poppins. I must say it right here right now - I love Julie Andrews, but I like our Mary Poppins better. When I first saw the American version of Mary Poppins, it just felt too picture-perfect/porcelain-doll /artificially pretty to me.
Same goes for the way I feel about the American version of Alice in Wonderland. Compared to our Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, it's just too "cartoony" - despite the fact that the graphic style in our version is much less life-like.
So, here is a crash course in some of my holiday (and family) favorites. If you are tired of yours, try some of mine - they might become your favorites too.