tri orisky pro popelku

Christmas means it’s time for ‘pohádky’

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A selection of some of the best Czech fairy tales on television this festive season

A national tradition (almost) as fundamental a part of the country’s cultural identity as Christmas carp is the fairy tale, known in Czech as pohádka. The former Czechoslovakia’s output of stories of this genre was prolific, and even after the fall of communism the push to produce films following the formula of Christmas happiness has continued.

The television lineup of the week leading up to Dec. 24, and beyond, usually comprises all of the famous pohádky of years past and sometimes includes a new film that may exploit the advances in technology but never strays too far from the tried-and-tested plotlines of its elder siblings.

The favorites, however, are the classics, with the Czechoslovak take on Cinderella head and shoulders above the rest; below, you will find a selection of some of the most beloved tales, sorted chronologically, to warm your heart this Christmas.

Pyšná princezna (The Proud Princess, 1952)
Dec. 24, 2013: ČT1, at 2:30 p.m.
Dec. 27, 2013: ČT1, at 8:45 a.m.
With no fewer than three works on the list, director Bořivoj Zeman can be considered the godfather of the Czech fairy tale, as the tradition of making these kinds of films can be traced back to him, and to this story in particular. Based on a story by Czech author Božena Němcová (whom expats are most likely to know from her appearance on the 500 Kč banknote), the plot centers on a princess whose charming gardener isn’t quite what he seems to be.

Available on DVD with English and German subtitles from Terryho ponožky at Světozor.

Byl jednou jeden kral (Once Upon a Time, There Was a King … , 1954)
Dec. 26, 2013: Prima TV, at 8:15 p.m.
Dec. 27, 2013: Prima TV, at 9:25 a.m.
Another Zeman film based on a story by celebrated author Božena Němcová, this is the second-most highly rated fairy tale on the Czech film database ČSFD.cz. It features the famed Jan Werich in the lead as Král Já I. (King “I” the First), who decides to go about choosing a successor by asking his three daughters how much he means to them. When the one daughter, Maruška, says he means as much as salt, the king chases her out of his sight — until he realizes what a compliment she really gave him.

Available on DVD with English subtitles from Terryho ponožky at Světozor.

Princezna se zlatou hvězdou (The Princess with the Golden Star, 1959)
Dec. 24, 2013: ČT1, at 5:40 p.m.
Dec. 27, 2013: ČT1, at 12:30 p.m.
A film unlike most we find today (with rare exceptions, like Sally Potter’s Yes), as all the spoken dialogue is uttered in verse. The beautiful princess Lada, who wears a golden star on her forehead, has to flee when the evil king Kazisvět (literally, Spoiler) invades her family’s land, storms into the palace and demands her hand in marriage. Marie Kyselková stars as the titular princess, and Martin Frič was in the director’s chair.

Available on DVD with English and German subtitles from Terryho ponožky at Světozor.

Šíleně smutná princezna (The Incredibly Sad Princess, 1968)
Dec. 24, 2013: TV Nova, at 6:40 p.m.
Dec. 25, 2013: TV Nova, at 9:20 a.m.
The two main characters of Bořivoj Zeman’s film, released in June 1968, just two months before the invasion of Czechoslovakia, share their names with the members of cast playing them. Prince Václav (Václav Neckář) has been promised to Princess Helena (Helena Vondráčková) in the neighboring kingdom in order for the two lands to be at peace. There is adventure and rebellion, and in the end the good triumphs over the evil (generals).

This title is available on DVD from Terryho ponožky at Světozor but has not been issued with English subtitles.

Tři oříšky pro Popelku (Three Nuts for Cinderella, 1973)
Dec. 24, 2013: TV Nova, at 8:20 p.m.
Three magic nuts get Cinderella to the dance, and the rest is history. The level of popularity of the country’s No. 1 fairy tale is such that its lines can easily be quoted by most Czechs of all ages, and it is one of only a few of the country’s pohádky to have found some measure of success abroad. Annually televised in its countries of origin (the former Czechoslovakia and East Germany), the film also has a big fan base in Norway, where the national broadcaster screens Tre nøtter til Askepott every year.

Available on DVD with English subtitles from Levne-dvd-filmy.cz.

Zlatovláska (Goldilocks, 1973)
Dec. 24, 2013: ČT1, at 1:10 p.m.
Christmas 1973 must have been something extraordinary. Released the same year as Tři oříšky pro Popelku, this film by Vlasta Janečková is the only title on this list directed by a woman. It tells the classic story of Goldilocks, but this time there is a delightfully wicked king played by Jiří Holy, and great use is made of the beautiful Červená Lhota castle in south Bohemia.

This title has not been issued with English subtitles, but it is available on DVD with Czech subtitles from Filmarena.cz.

S čerty nejsou žerty (Give the Devil His Due, 1984)
Dec. 25, 2013: TV Nova, at 8:20 p.m.
Dec. 26, 2013: TV Nova, at 9:05 a.m.
A perennial favorite, this fairy tale directed by Hynek Bočan was once again inspired by the work of Němcová and tells a delicious story of treachery in which a woman knows no fury like the hell scorned. The greedy main character marries an old man to get his fortune when he dies, but her ambition makes her catch the eye of those who bring new meat (or spirits) to the underworld, and she soon has to fight to stay alive but entangles everyone around her in a complex melodrama that is great fun.

Available on DVD with Czech and English subtitles from Terryho ponožky at Světozor.

Pelíšky (Cozy dens, 1999)
Dec. 24, 2013: ČT1, at 8:30 p.m.
This film by Jan Hřebejk — although not technically a fairy tale, but certainly one of the best-known and most profitable Czech motion pictures of all times — is set just before the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. A type of Romeo and Juliet, but based on a novel titled Flaming Feces, the two teenagers here are from a communist and an anti-communist family, respectively, and have to somehow overcome the turmoil around them before the world is changed irrevocably. Perhaps the film’s lasting popularity can best be gauged by Czech Television’s decision to screen it in the same timeslot as TV Nova’s broadcast of Tři oříšky pro Popelku this year.

Available on DVD with English subtitles from Bontonland.

Anděl Páně (2005)
Dec. 23, 2013: ČT1, at 8 p.m.
When an angel is banished from heaven, he ends up living a less than glamorous life on the streets. Using figures from the Bible as well as mixing in some Czech culture, the film is an absolute riot that nonetheless spins a wildly entertaining yarn. It certainly helps that the angel, Petronel, is played by Ivan Trojan.

This title is available on DVD from Terryho ponožky at Světozor but has not been issued with English subtitles. The DVD contains only Czech subtitles for the hard of hearing.

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