“Mermaid” is a dreamlike quirk-fest with a sad but hopeful heart
Written and directed by: Anna Melikyan
My discovery of Anna Melikyan’s 2007 film “Mermaid” was… unique. I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook feed one night, just before going to sleep, and I saw that one of the movie pages I follow had an article titled “The 20 best films no one in America has seen”. Naturally I took that as a challenge, and clicked on the link. Now I am proud to say that I had in fact seen 9 of the 20 films on the list, and obviously I added all of the others to my “To watch” list. The one that piqued my interest the most though was this Russian movie that the article called “The Russian ‘Amelie'”. I read the synopsis which said the following: “The fanciful tale of an introverted little girl who grows up believing she has the power to make wishes come true. She must reconcile this belief with reality when, as a young woman, she journeys to Moscow and grapples with love, modernity and materialism.” I knew I had to watch this movie! So I did what anybody in my position would do. I went to sleep… Then, the next morning, I woke up and added it to my Amazon cart.
A couple of weeks later, it was two days until my birthday and my lovely wife handed me a package and said “I got you an early birthday present!”. I opened it, and inside were two DVDs. The first was “Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Turkey Day Collection” which I was insanely happy about. The second was “Mermaid”, which I had all but forgotten about. Fast forward a month, to today, and I decided to sit down and watch it and review it for you all.
The story in “Mermaid” centers on a young woman named Alisa (Shalayeva) who, despite having a sadly lonely childhood, has an indestructible optimism. This is aided by the fact that through universal justice, some kind of magic, or just her imagination she is blessed with the abilities to both sense future events and make her own wishes come true. With no Father in the house, a Mother who only stops ignoring her to yell at her, and a Grandmother who is only concerned with eating ice cream Alisa is left to her own devices. When she meets Sasha (Tsyganov), it seems that love is finally knocking at her door. Now if she can just get him to notice her…
This film reminded me of other dreamlike, tragic love stories like… yes “Amelie” but also Michel Gondry’s “Science of Sleep”. Like Gael Garcia Bernal’s character in that movie, Alisa has a vivid imagination and an equally prominent dream life. Many of the signs that the universe show her come to her via a recurring dream that always takes place on the beach she lived on as a child. For much of the movie, these are the only scenes in which Alisa speaks. The dream scenes also add a lot of depth to the character and made me care about her, by giving me the feeling I was getting to know her inner thoughts and feelings (“Amelie” also employed the use of the character’s imagination to show the viewer who she was on the inside).
“Mermaid” is equal parts funny, sweet, hopeful, and sad. It is not easy to take all of those emotions and the sentiments involved, throw them all in a blender, and come up with something good. Melikyan accomplishes that and more though, and I am aching to see more of her work (which it sadly seems is not available in the U.S.). If you like the works of Gondry, Wes Anderson, or Jean-Pierre Jeunet you will most definitely enjoy “Mermaid”.