Germany may have been home to the Grimm brothers, but the fairy tales they collected grew in both Czech and German lands. Like regional recipes, these stories share common ingredients if not a common language, more similar to each other than to the saccharine sweets whipped up by Disney. Three Hazelnuts for the Ash Girl,* or, as you might know it, Cinderella, is one such tale, and the clip above** shows the first scene from a famous retelling of that story.
Famous in central Europe, that is, especially around Christmas time. Produced in 1973 in Czechoslovakia and Eastern Germany, and distributed in both Czech and German, Tři oříšky pro Popelku has turned into a Christmas classic, broadcast each year in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland and Norway. We saw it for the first time in Switzerland a few years ago, and now watch it in German there, and in Czech at home.
What makes this a Cinderella story to add to your calendar? The score certainly helps, and the scenery - forest shots in real snow, a squalidly real manor house, one of the more picturesque castles in eastern Germany. The dialogues work as well, batted back and forth by a comic cast of characters who breathe life into an old story flattened by familiarity.
But that's not why it's so re-watchable. I'd give credit to a script twist that turns Cinderella into a strong role to play and to the actress who plays her - Libuše Šafránková. It is the beautifully clever face of Popelka as she rises from the ashes, defies the usurpers who have taken over her home, and wins her prince and freedom that makes this a Czech fairy tale to remember, and to watch again, come Christmas.
* Tři oříšky pro Popelku, also known as Three Gifts for Cinderella in the UK, Three Wishes for Cinderella in the US and Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel in German.
** Dubbed into English and shown on the BBC years ago. You can watch the complete movie on Youtube in English, but the sound quality is much better on DVD.