How does Anna Melikyan’s film, The Mermaid compare with the fairy tales written by Nina Sadur. What features of the folk fairy tale do they retain and how do they transform the fairy tale for contemporary audiences? What are the similarities and the differences between the images of post-Soviet Russia that they present?
The complexity of your question is enough to cause anyone to think deeply about the elements of fairy tales. You are quite adept in comparison to put Melikyan, Sadur, and the fairy tale in the same vein. Both Melikyan and Sadur "transform the fairy tale for contemporary audiences" by placing the heroines in a modern setting; however, the main element of the folk fairy tale remains the same: good vs. evil. The main feature of the folk fairy tale that both Melikyan and Sadur retain is a clearly defined conflict between good and evil as well as a character's (specifically a woman's) significant fight against these forces.
First, let's take a look at the good vs. evil conflict in Melikyan's Mermaid. Alice is the heroine here, of course, and evil in Alice's world always presents itself in the form of either adultery or cheating. How do we know this? Because there is a significant repetition of the reaction to that evil by Alice:
Traitor! Go to hell!
For example, at the beginning of Mermaid, Alice is simply dreaming of becoming a famous Russian ballerina while she lives with her grandmother and mom near the ocean. While waiting for her dad's return, Alice figures out that her mother is having an affair with a neighbor. Further, Alice walks in on them being sexually intimate with each other and screams, "Traitor! Go to hell!" When Alice gets older, she begins to attempt romantic relationships herself. Alice is especially interested in a man named Sasha (whom she saves numerous times). Alice eventually meets another young lady named Rita who tells Alice to get her wish by writing the name of a man on a cigarette and then smoking that cigarette. Both ladies smoke a cigarette with the name "Sasha." After Alice gets involved with Sasha, Rita begins to present herself. Alice even finds Rita in Sasha's apartment. In a repeat scene from earlier in the film, Alice walks in on Rita and Sasha being sexually intimate with each other and, again, screams, "Traitor! Go to hell!"
Next, it's important to look at Sadur's stories in comparison. In Sadur's fairy tales, there is always a dominant, malevolent force as well. If you take her story "Silky Hair" as an example, we can use the heroine of the mother to show the struggle against evil. The mother continually refuses to submit to "the other" (the evil in the story). The mother never gives in. Further, she tries to save her child. Unfortunately, in the process of trying to save her child, she becomes a barbarian (which is exactly what she was trying to prevent). Just like Melikyan, Sadur sets her heroines in a modern, Russian setting in order to appeal to a contemporary audience. What is interesting is Nina Sadur's own response to evil in the world during multiple interviews. She continually refers to the following:
[The fear of] neighbors and the bad actions they might do.
As you can see, this fear, this reality, and these bad actions certainly come out in her stories. In "Silky Hair," we see this evil in the form of barbarism.
In regards to the differences and similarities to post-Soviet Russia, we have to look at the qualities of both doubt and insecurity. Both heroines, that of Melikyan and Sadur, possess those qualities (although it would be an error to consider those two qualities as the "evil" element in these "fairy tales"). It is both doubt and insecurity that plague post-Soviet Russia, suddenly a huge nation without a dictator for a leader. Even when dictatorship is nixed in Russia, the evils of poverty and unhappiness still exist. It is the same in the stories of both Melikyan and Sadur. The heroines, no matter how much they struggle, still find evil in the world. Alice finds evil in adultery and infidelity, and the mother in "Silky Hair" finds evil in barbarism. In a further connection to the post-Soviet world, the fall of the Iron Curtain and, as such, the fall of Communism in Soviet Russia was supposed to initiate a world of peace and prosperity. Instead, evil still exists.
Therefore, the fairy tale quality of good vs. evil can be found in the philosophy of both Melikyan and Sadur. Another element to take a look at is the "magical" element of these fairy tales. In this way, I love to look at the character of Alice in the movie Mermaid. Alice continually "saves" Sasha (even from death). She has premonitions about things, such as the repeated phrase of, "Rita, what are you doing here?" Even the smoking of the Sasha-cigarette comes true. One begins to wish that these stories would have the traditional happy endings of the fairy tale; however, just as the little mermaid dies in Hans Christian Andersen's tale, ... these women also don't end up with a perfect world in post-Soviet Russia.