CHRISTMAS CINEMA: The Night Before Christmas (1961)

This movie is brought to you by our friend Paul Andolina, who created the website Wrestling with Film. He loves Russian and Christmas movies more than anyone I know. This is literally at the center of both of his loves, so I invited him to share it with all of you:

As I sit at my computer listening to Russian Christmas carols after having just watched Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka aka Night Before Christmas, I realize that is important to inform you about Russian traditions before jumping into my review for the film. Russians are free to celebrate the religious aspects of Christmas now that the Soviet Union has dissolved but that wasn’t always the case. During the years of communism in Russia and its many republics New Year’s Eve would be celebrated instead. It was and still is today celebrated by lavish spreads of food and drinks, reveling, and enjoying family and friend’s company and it is when Father Frost (Ded Moroz) and his companion the Snow Maiden (Snegurochka) visit the children and deliver presents.  It is also celebrated by watching movies such as Carnival Night, and the so popular it’s now part of the vernacular of the Russian language, Irony of Fate or Enjoy Your Bath. Christmas is usually celebrated on January 7th instead of December 25th due to the the use of the Julian calendar.

Among the many movies watched during the day before and on the day of January 1st is an adaptation of the short story Night Before Christmas(Noch Pered Rozhdestvom) by Ukrainian and Russian writer Nikolai Gogol.  Elements of supernatural horror were largely unwelcome by Soviet standards in film, but fairy tales and literary adaptations were allowed to use them. This movie is directed by Aleksandr Rou who is no stranger to films with such elements as most of his filmography is fairy tale films based on folklore and literature.

This film is largely about the antics of the denizens of Dikanka. Among them is Vakula the blacksmith and painter, his arch enemy the devil, his love interest Oksana, a witch named Solokha, and the many men who pay her a visit.  The devil has a grudge against Vakula for painting an unflattering depiction of him and vows to pay him back in like.

It is set on the evening of the day before Christmas.

This is short flick with a runtime of little over an hour. It is quite an easy watch. It’s fun to watch the devil, here depicted as a silly little creature, stir up trouble by causing blizzards with his digging in the snow and spinning in circles. He also swims into the sky to steal the moon. There are many antics of the town drunkards, carolers, and a particularly funny scene when too many suitors show up to Solokha’s house. It is mostly a love story though as amidst all the goings on of the evening, it is largely focused on the wooing of Oksana by Vakula. Oksana rebuffs him many times, even insisting she will only marry him if he brings her the slippers the Tsarina wears. There is also a semi-disturbing scene of a sorcerer named Patsyuk which means rat in Ukrainian eating Russian dumplings using magic.

I highly recommend this film to fans of surreal film, international films, and fairy tales or just kitsch in general. So curl up this New Year’s and enjoy this film which can be watched for free on youtube subtitled in English here:

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