Mermaid

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PARK CITY -- A romantic contemporary fairy tale, "Mermaid" charms on multiple levels with sweet-natured whimsicality and creativity.

This is a surefire festival selection that's destined to live happily ever after on DVD and European TV. Russian writer-director Anna Melikian's film recently won the World Cinema Directing Award at last month's Sundance Film Festival.

"Mermaid" introduces Alisa (Anastasiya Dontsova) following her birth six years earlier to a stocky single woman (Maria Sokova) after a seashore skinny-dipping en-counter with a wayward sailor. The young girl grows up independent and headstrong, to the extent that when her mother refuses to let her study ballet, Alisa takes a vow of silence and keeps it for more than a decade.

Relegated to a special-ed school because of her refusal to speak, she discovers an unusual ability to make wishes come true that even allows her to influence the weather. One day she conjures up a major hurricane that destroys her seaside home, forcing Alisa and her mother, along with her dotty grandma, to relocate to Moscow.

Now 17, Alisa (Masha Shalaeva) flourishes in her new urban environment but still can't get a break as she's denied admission to college because of her low test scores. Taking a job as a walking cell phone mascot, she's able to covertly observe big-city life. When she comes upon the drunken, suicidal young businessman Sasha (Yevgeni Tsyganov), she saves him from drowning and is instantly smitten.

Abandoning her nonverbal habits, Alisa insinuates herself into his life as a house-cleaner. His inspiration to cast her as a spokes-model for his shady business of selling real estate on the moon to gullible customers suggests that he might have a romantic interest in Alisa. Even her role in two more life-saving interventions can't distract Sasha from his neurotic, high-maintenance girlfriend (Irina Skrinichenko), launching a mismatched rivalry between the two women.

Shalaeva radiates as the offbeat Alisa, surrounded by a capable cast of similarly fanciful characters. Despite some peculiar plot developments, Melikian's light touch keeps the pell-mell narrative from derailing.

Drawing on her background in TV and musical productions, Melikian combines an inventive visual sensibility in the film's realistic sequences with digitally enhanced, brightly colored fantasy scenes, skillfully shot by cinematographer Oleg Kirichenko.

MERMAID
Magnum Studios in association with Central Partnership
Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Anna Melikian
Producer: Ruben Dishdishian
Director of photography: Oleg Kirichenko
Production designer: Ulyana Ryabova
Music: Igor Vdovin
Costume designer: Irina Grashdankina
Editor: Oleg Kirichenko
Cast:
Alisa: Masha Shalaeva
Sasha: Yevgeni Tsyganov
Mother: Maria Sokova
Young Alisa: Anastasiya Dontsova
Running time -- 114 minutes
No MPAA rating
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