Three Wishes for Cinderella: Beloved Czech film fairytale gets new international release

Photo: Second Run

Tři oříšky pro Popelku, which literally translates as Three Hazelnuts for Cinderella, is the most popular Czech movie fairytale, watched every Christmas by all generations. Now Václav Vorlíček’s 1973 film has got a new international release, coming out as Three Wishes for Cinderella in a restored version with new subtitles and expert essays on the Second Run DVD imprint. The London company has reissued many modern Czech classics, including Marketa Lazarová by František Vláčil and Ivan Passer’s Intimate Lighting. On the phone from the UK, Second Run’s Mehelli Modi told explained why it was releasing its first fairytale movie.

Photo: Second Run
“First of all I think it is a completely different take on a well-established tradition. You know, the character of the princess.

“Also the artists who worked on this film are very interesting. The script has been credited to Bohumila Zelenková, who is actually the mother of Petr Zelenka, a filmmaker who I love and whose work I think is very interesting.

“But the real writer of the film was František Pavlíček. Pavlíček was kind of banned by the authorities at that time, so Bohumila Zelenková gave her name to be used, although Pavlíček wrote the script.

“And of course Pavlíček is the man who with Vláčil wrote Marketa Lazarová, which as you know has been one of my most favourite films of all time.

“You have also got another Vláčil connection and that is the costumes, which I understand are very famous throughout Germany and Czechoslovakia. They were done by Theodore Pištěk [who also did Marketa Lazarová and Amadeus].

“So straight away for me, besides what the film represents in terms of the characters, the artists who worked on it put it in a different league to other pohádky [fairytales] that I know.

“I’m sure there are tons more which are wonderful, but of the ones I know, Three Wishes for Cinderella, we call it Three Wishes here...”

Why is that, why did they change the title slightly?

“Because it was shown under that title on BBC in the UK in the 1970s.

“Then for children’s television they would scour the world to pick up stories or fairytales or children’s programmes.

“Then in the UK what they did was they cut it into 10-minute slices, so that they were easy for little children to cope with.

“And because here if you say ‘Three Nuts for Cinderella’, it does not work.”

Mehelli Modi,  photo: Ian Willoughby
If we could speak about the character of Cinderella, she’s not very passive, is she? She’s very kind of feisty.

“Yes, completely. That is why I think it was such a different take on a very well-established longstanding tradition.

“It is not a Disneyfied version. She’s not like a vacant doll, manipulated or passive.

“She has a great deal of fire and spirit and takes control of her life in spite of the difficulties that she is living under. As you know, she makes the prince run around in circles.

“We have always felt that, and it might be because we are looking at it from this century, that there is underneath a subtext, which is very proto-feminist.”

I wanted to ask you about its international reputation. It is among the most popular Czech film fairytales but how well is it known, do you know, outside the borders of the Czech Republic or previously Czechoslovakia?

“Michael Brooke, who has done our appreciation, did a bit of research into this when he was preparing his piece, and he told me that it was among the most successful Czech exports of the time.

“I guess that means because of its connection to Norway. The Norwegian have been part of the funding of the restoration.

“Its popular in Norway, Germany, the rest of Europe, in the UK because of its being shown on BBC.

“And I think, and I do not know whether people remember it quite in that way, but it feels that it was a very successful export at the time, not in the terms of theatrical sense, but more in television sales, that kind of thing.

“It is so popular in Norway that it is shown every year on television. And one year, when it was not shown, there was a real uproar and questions were asked in the Norwegian parliament as to why Popelka was not shown that year.

'Tři oříšky pro Popelku' | Photo: National Film Archive
“So it gives you an idea how closely this film creeps into people’s… happiness in a way.

“We had e-mails from people when we announced it, saying ‘Oh my God, I remember when I was very young, watching this on television!’

“So hopefully we will also get some of those people coming back for nostalgia, but seeing it in a very different light now.”