An excerpt from the booklet essay by Tim Lucas.
Since its first adaptation to film in 1899 (Georges Méliès’ Cendrillon), the Cinderella story has demonstrated remarkable elasticity. It has been a silent Mary Pickford vehicle (Cinderella, 1914); cartoons from the ‘Laugh-O-Gram’, Van Beuren (Cinderella Blues, 1931), Max Fleischer (Poor Cinderella, 1934 – Betty Boop’s only foray into colour), and Warner Bros. (Tex Avery’s Cinderella Meets Fella, 1938) studios; a Deanna Durbin musical (First Love, 1939); a beloved Rodgers & Hammerstein musical (thrice produced for television, introducing Julie Andrews, Lesley Ann Warren and Brandy Norwood in the leads, respectively); a Jerry Lewis gender-bender (Cinderfella, 1960); a Muppets TV special (Hey, Cinderella!, 1969); and an all-black production (Cindy, 1976) while also leaving its mark on Pretty Woman (1990), Ever After (1998), and Into the Woods (2014). However much we change technologically or as a society, it seems to hold true that – as Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” As long as this wisdom resonates, people will have need of Cendrillon, Aschenputtel, Solushka, Cinderella. In any phoenix that rises from the ashes, there is a bit of Cinderella.
Three Wishes for Cinderella, whose original title Tři oříšky pro Popelku more accurately translates as ‘Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella’, is almost certain to strike Western sensibilities as a brazen reinvention of a beloved classic that – appropriately to its era – introduced greater equality between the sexes. In fact, the script by František Pavlíček (writing as Bohumila Zelenková) is faithfully adapted from what has become virtually the standard Czech version of the tale: ‘O Popelce’, written by folklorist Božena Němcová and first published in his 1862 collection Národní báchorky a pověsti (National Stories and Legends). Němcová actually based his story on a still older one, ‘The Widower and His Daughter’, which first appeared in English in The Folk-tales of the Magyars, translated and edited by the Rev. W. Henry Jones and Lewis L. Kropf (London: The Folklore Society, 1889). It is estimated that more than 350 different versions of the Cinderella story exist in all the different languages of the world, each country adding its own local ingredients.
It does seem very much the intention of Three Wishes for Cinderella and its authors to reinvent its heroine as an example for the young women of the mid-1970s. As portrayed by 19-year-old newcomer Libuše Šafránková, Popelku is a rebellious and liberated spirit; someone capable to standing up to, and outwitting, members of the opposite sex without ever losing a hint of her essential femininity. She’s also a hunter (and thus provider) reflecting the capabilities of single mothers in a post-divorce era, and a tribute to the resourcefulness and potential inherent in any East European member of the working class. Despite her proclivity for hunting, she goes out of her way to protect animals whom others (including the Prince) would stalk and kill for sport, and is only shown shooting down a bird of prey. Šafránková – who would subsequently play the title role in a live action adaptation of Andersen’s The Little Mermaid (Karel Kachyňa’s Malá morská vila, 1976) - has a sly, self-possessed quality that invites the viewer to share her interior life, a refuge from her imposed drudgery that extends to warm relationships with her white stallion, her black-and-white border collie, and a grey, wise old barn owl that guards a small box containing her meagre treasures.
When Popelku meets the Prince (Pavel Trávníček), she is very much meeting her own mirror image. The pair first meet in a snowy forest while playing hooky from their more official duties, and with each subsequent meeting the more the Prince is intrigued by the strange girl’s ability to thwart him, to out-perform him, to mystify him.
Throughout most of the home video era, Three Wishes for Cinderella has only been available for viewing on small labels in cropped, dull-looking, poorly-subtitled presentations. In 2014, the National Library of Norway joined forces with the Czech Film Archives in Prague to preserve in new HD restorations the ten films judged to be most important to Czech film history. Happily, Three Wishes for Cinderella was among those titles chosen. Seen in this sparkling new transfer, a wealth of previously lost chromatic subtlety rises to the surface and the film becomes warmer, its winter wonderlands colder, its performances more involving, and its story more entertaining than ever before.
Tim Lucas' complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the DVD release.
A short excerpt from the booklet
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(i) Interview with director Václav Vorlíček on BBC's Czech service (in Czech)
(ii) On the trail of Cinderella
(iii) Author Božena Němcová
(iv) On the restoration of 'Three Wishes for Cinderella'
(v) Dedicated German fan site