Look carefully--even though all these doves have her face only one of them is the real Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair (Варвара-краса, длинная коса)
. Alexander Rowe's 1969 film is among the many wonderful Soviet films that present the viewer with such delightfully unrestrained fantasy, relentlessly providing one bizarre image or idea after another as though they were the most natural things in the world. Barbara the Fair with the Silken Hair
is a particularly manic and faintly sadistic example but this makes it seem even more like something that sprang directly from the 18th century.
Based on a fairy tale by Vasily Zhukovsky, the story concerns a hairy red-headed Tsar named Yeremei (Mikhail Pugovkin) who tries to weasel out of accidentally promising his firstborn son to Chudo-Yudo (Georgy Millyar), an underwater Tsar who almost strangles the land Tsar to death.
Like a good Enlightenment thinker, Yeremei has decided to organise and categorise everything in his kingdom so when Chudo-Yudo asks for everything in the kingdom Yeremei doesn't know about he figures he's got the upper hand on the water monster. Unfortunately, life doesn't comply with Yeremei's carefully compiled lists and, unbeknownst to him, his wife has given birth to a son, Andrey (Sergei Nikolaev). So Yeremei switches the infant with a fisherman's son, conveniently also named Andrey (Aleksei Katyshev), another subtle dig at categorisation. But maybe he wouldn't have done this if he'd known Chudo-Yudo would want the prince as husband for his daughter, the beautiful Barbara (Tatiana Klyueva).
Everyone seems to be a sorcerer underwater, except for a gang of French pirates (credited as "Most real pirates") that serve Chudo-Yudo. But Barbara dreams of living among humans and begs her nanny (Varvara Popova) to teach her to knit even though Barbara can instantly weave an elaborate tapestry with her telekinetic powers. These are usually accompanied by a groovy snap zoom to her lovely eyes flashing red and blue.
In addition to a dove, she can also turn into a mouse and a squirrel--she uses the latter form to scope out the fisherman's son when it looks like he might be a suitor. There's a lot of stuff with real animals in this film that I hope didn't involve traumatising them too much but I can't help finding really charming. Somehow in the underwater kingdom there are two bear cubs working as ferrymen who demand honey for payment; the fisherman's son has a whole bucketful but slurps it all up himself right in front them.
Barbara has several suitors who disappoint her. I really love how everyone can't seem to understand why she's not turned on by the guy whose belly is a bowl of fish.
This movie really never lets up on the weird. It's great. The whole thing's on YouTube with English subtitles here: