Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.
USSR, 1946 . Mosfilm. Screenplay by Pavel Bazhov, Ivan Keller. Cinematography by Fyodor Provorov. Music by Lev Shvarts. Production Design by Aleksandr Ptushko. Costume Design by Olga Kruchinina. Film Editing by M. Kuzmina. Cannes Film Festival 1946.
Soviet producers draw homegrown audiences away from the lure of glamorous American productions with a full-colour fantasy film inspired by a beloved Russian folk tale. Prokopych is an aged stone cutter who is told by the local authority that he needs to take on an apprentice, which the old man doesn’t want to do because he hates teaching. From the group of young men he takes into his studio, Prokopych decides upon Danilo as his protege, growing to care for him as a son and letting him take over duties as he grows older and more frail. When the snooty village landlord tells Prokopych that he wants him to make a jewelry box more beautiful than the one he saw on a trip to France, Danilo steps in and completes the task for his aging mentor, which only makes the landlord’s wife greedy for more beautiful things. She asks him to make a vase in the shape of a flower, and Danilo, obsessed as he is now with his craft, destroys the first one that he crafts, deciding to follow his inspiration to a mystical mountain where the Mistress of the Copper Mountain lives with her famed Stone Flower. He has been warned that she will enslave him in her clutches if he is not careful, but heedless of the danger to himself, Danilo heads to this mystical place where the film’s production design (by director Aleksandr Ptushko himself) really outdoes itself, creating dazzling images that are likely response for its award for Best Colour Film at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. The attempt to flesh out a small story into feature length doesn’t entirely work, a lot of it plods through unnecessary details to justify its running time, but it stays true to the flavour of folklore it looks to preserve.