A girl and boy. Brother and sister. Living in poverty and neglect. Lost in the woods. They see a house, rush toward it… it is magical. Full of good food, soft sheets, love and care. But in this house, danger lurks. And all they have is each other.
The Brothers Grimm fairy tale Hansel and Gretel takes a modern neorealist twist in H&G.
What would cause a parent to abandon their child? Especially today? How would stranded children, left alone, behave?
These are the questions that prompted talented Canadian indie filmmaker, Danishka Esterhazy to write and create a "neorealist" film based on Hansel and Gretel, along with the impressive group of women filmmakers who make up Red Czarina. Take a look at the trailer for a taste of the result:
In talking about how she began writing H&G Ms. Esterhazy says:
I have always been fascinated by fairy tales. Growing up, I was an avid reader and the world of fairy tales ignited my imagination. As an adult, my work has often been inspired by fairy tales. My short films The Snow Queen (2005) andThe Red Hood (2009), both inspired by traditional tales, are two of the film projects in which I take the most pride. After completing my first feature film, Black Field, which was based on a wholly original story, I found my imagination drawn back to the world of fable. The story that I returned to again and again was Hansel and Gretel.
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...I have always been struck by this fable’s portrayal of adult women. The stepmother and the witch are portrayed as heartless villains. Whereas the father, although also complicit in the abandonment of the children, is portrayed as caring and loveable. In reading about the history of the tale, I discovered that Wilhelm Grimm revised the traditional tale several times. He changed the mother character into a stepmother and he also made her less sympathetic. According to folklorist Jack Zipes, Wilhelm Grimm “deepened the characterization of the father and stepmother so that he becomes much more caring and concerned about the children and she becomes more coldhearted and cruel.” This sharp gender dichotomy, this demonization of the adult female characters, was an element of the story that I wanted to explore and challenge. This was my starting place for writing H&G.
Professor of Women's and Gender Studies, Pauline Greenhill* of the University of Winnipeg, has high praise for Ms. Esterhazy and her fellow female filmmakers at Red Czarina, specifically Esterhazy's vision of fairy tales in film and specifically, here, of H&G:
If you love fairy tales, you’ll want to see Danishka Esterhazy’s H & G. This meditation on the traditional story of “Hansel and Gretel” departs from the saccharine escapism, arch pastiche, or romantic teensploitation of recent blockbuster fairy tale films. It delivers what versions of international fairy tales at their best offer–something well worth thinking about. In the tradition of excellent films set in everyday North America, like Matthew Bright’sFreeway (1996), Nicole Kassell’s The Woodsman (2004), or David Slade’s Hard Candy (2005) (which riff on the equally well-known tale of “Little Red Riding Hood”), H & G provides both an updating of a familiar story and a contemplation of its potential meanings. At least five English-language campy horror “Hansel and Gretel” movies debuted in 2013. But H & G has more in common with excellent international films using the same tale to explore dangers to children, as well as their remarkable resilience. Abuse and survival similarly focus Christoph Hochhäusler’s German Milchwald (2003) and Pil-Sung Yim’s South Korean Hansel & Gretel (2007). These films, with H & G, demonstrate that the tale is about more than just a gingerbread house, a witch, and a breadcrumb-strewn path–evocative and pervasive though those images are.
When mythic indie filmmaker and beloved-by-many fairy tale friend, Lisa Stock (In By The Eye) recommended H&G and Ms. Esterhazy to me, I knew I was in for a treat and boy, was I! Doing, what feels to be, a very late catch-up on Danishka Esterhazy's work, I can't quite believe I haven't heard of her before. Judging by her other fairy tale works, this trailer is just a glimpse of a wonderful, and relevant, interpretation and I am really looking forward to seeing H&G as a finished feature.
Expect to hear me talk more about Danishka Esterhazy's other fairy tale projects very soon. I'll finish for today by quoting a little more from Prof. Greenhill's critical response to the work:
I see Red Czarina–Ashley Hirt, Rebecca Gibson, and Danishka Esterhazy–who collaboratively created H&G, in the long tradition of strong women storytellers. Like the triumvirate who told tales to the Grimms–Dorothea Viehmann, Jeanette Hassenpflug, and Dortchen Wild (the source for “Hansel and Gretel”)–the Czarinas work with abundant creative resources but very little money to provide a story that reflects its history and location, but is also ageless.
You can see more information about the movie and the collaborative filmmakers at the H&G film website HERE. Danishka Esterhazy's personal filmmaking website is HERE (and it has a TON of beautiful images!)
H&G will premiere in festivals in FALL 2013.
*Professor Pauline Greenhill was also Co-editor with Sidney Eve Matrix of Fairy Tale Films: Visions of Ambiguity 2010.