The 1976 live-action Rusalochka is a haunting adaptation with a great sense of place and time. Where most adaptations set the story in a vague fairytale-ish era of the past, this one drops it firmly in the ceremonial and grimy medieval era of the 13th century, where princes and princesses live in stone fortresses, and said superstitions are rife enough that witches and mermaids are accepted to be real, and mermaids in particular are feared for their ability to crash ships.
Viktoriya Novikova plays the little mermaid in a journey that's highly unusual among the many adaptations of the Hans Christian Andersen story. When on land, she forges a connection not with her prince, but with Sulpitius, a homeless tramp who helps her find a witch to trade in her green-blue hair for legs and a heart. He also helps getting her to Prince Antoine, and protects her from numerous dangers, including almost being burned alive by a mob after innocently confessing to being a ship-destroying mermaid. Later on, the little mermaid develops a relationship with the rival princess, who treats her as a pet foundling, which is a fascinating change from the prince being the one to adopt her that way.
This version does a great deal of interesting things with Sulpitius and by mixing up the dynamic between Antoine, the rival princess, and the little mermaid. On the other hand this means that the little mermaid barely spends any time with Antoine, and Sulpitius does most of the work for the little mermaid's quest, right down to the final sacrifice that has the little mermaid becoming an eternal spirit, which is no longer due to the little mermaid's bravery, but Sulpitius's.
That said, this film has great atmosphere and some really beautiful scenes, including choreographed underwater sequences earlier on where the mermaids swim together in the ocean. Additionally, this one of those adaptations with a clear focus in its changing up the Hans Christian Andersen story. The little mermaid becomes a symbol of goodness in a cruel world, and in this version her goodness is fully recognized by others: Sulpitius and the witch, who admire and mourn her.
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