By now I have discussed one version based on Perrault and one which was (more or less) based on Grimm. One was an American, the other a Czech/German production. This time around, I want to introduce an Italian take to a wider audience: Cenerentola ’80. As the name suggests, this one is set in the 1980s instead of a classic fairy tale setting. And boy, is it 1980s. The typical clothes, hairdos, the pop music, there is really no confusing in which era this one was made, with or without the title.
Speaking of the music, there is a trend I noticed with modern Cinderella adaptations: they are often connected to some sort of show biz or music career. There is a Highway to Heaven episode called Cindy, in which the heroine wants to be an actress and the prince is a famous director (btw one of my favourite episodes of the show…yes, I like some corniness once in a while). There is a whole series of TV-movies in which the heroine is a talented singer. Even in a fairly recent adaptation from Italy the heroine (this time called Aurora) wants to become a pianist. I guess it kind of makes sense, since nowadays celebrities are the true kings of the world. And it is naturally a good excuse for putting a lot of music into the story. This particular movie comes with a soundtrack I can only recommend. As I mentioned above it is very 1980s, but with some really great tunes, which made the main actress and singer, Bonnie Bianco (actually Lory Bianco), quite popular in Germany back then.
Cenerentola ’80 has a somewhat strange history. In fact, I am not even sure if movie is the right word for it, since it is actually started as miniseries on TV. The German version exists in two synchronisations (one made in West and the other in Eastern Germany), under two titles (either Cinderella ’80 or Cinderella ’87, since that was the year in which is first aired in West Germany), and it has aired in four parts, two parts or as one movie at different times. The shortest cut is 80 minutes long, the longest 200, the international version 120. The one I am most familiar with clocks in at slightly more than 170s minutes, but for the purpose of this review, I bought the complete collection which offers the uncut version with subtitles.
I know, this seems a little bit long for a Cinderella story, but every second is entirely justified, since the time is used to flesh out all the characters out more than usual. Of all the adaptations set in modern times I picked this one because, well, frankly, I really love it, but also because it examines the tale from a couple of perspectives which are usually overlooked. Above all how Cindy’s toxic family life impacts her psychologically. Remember how I mentioned last week that most adaptations kill off the father early on? Well, this one doesn’t. In fact the first quarter of the story is entirely about Cindy’s relationship with her father, who is an Italian Pizza baker in New York.
At the first glance Cindy seems to be the typical rebellious teenager. In the first scenes, showing her at a school for singing and modern dance, she acts a little bit grumpy. But then it turns out that she has good reasons to snap at everyone. It is her 18th birthday and she is very aware how her birthday party will go: She will get a cake and a 100 dollar check (plus 5% inflation) from her father to make up for the fact that nobody will bother to buy her a present. And she is indeed right (well, other than the inflation already being at 10%).
Before Cindy arrives at home, the movie takes a lot of time to flesh out the dynamic in her family. Especially telling is when Muriel, the stepmother, reminds Harry that Cindy is “the fruit of his sin” and “his rotten apple”. It is quite obvious that neither Muriel nor her two daughters, Liz and Carol, care one bit for Cindy (or her birthday). It is also obvious that Harry desperately tries his best to still create some sort of party for Cindy. But he also has another worry: his lawyer has informed him that Cindy is in legal trouble and that it might be better if she leaves the country for a while. Considering that Muriel and her daughters are about to travel to Italy for one year because Liz and Carol want to continue their music studies in Rome, he wants Cindy to travel with them. Predictably the situation escalates when Cindy arrives and hears them arguing about her over the intercom system.
Now I don’t want to summarize the whole movie, but I think that Cindy’s relationship with her father is key to understanding her character. The events lead them both to a recording studio where we get the first taste of Cindy’s singing talent….
This scene is followed by confrontation during which Cindy rightly accuses her father that he doesn’t even know what is going on in her life. That he is always busy with his Pizzeria, while she is left with Muriel who doesn’t care one bit about her. Harry agrees, admitting that he didn’t even realize what a talented singer she is, but also points out that she is wrong that he doesn’t love her. It turns out that Cindy is the result of an affair he had. He desperately wanted to hide it from his wife, but when she was born and her mother died, he took her and brought her home. Muriel agreed to take care of her, but also used her as leverage against Harry from this point onward. “Isn’t that love?” he argues, and yes, he is right, love is not just about what you are ready to give, it is above all what you are ready to give up.
After a tearful reconciliation, Harry organizes a spontaneous party in his pizzeria, with his employees and Cindy’s friends. This first act, so to speak, ends with him and her friends convincing Cindy that she should leave for Rome, and not just because it would supposedly easier for her to start a singing career in Europe. It turns out that she is in legal trouble because she hit a police officer who tried to molest her, firmly moving her from the “rebellious teenager” to a confident young woman who knows how to defend herself, but also has serious trust issues. Cindy will run into trouble multiple times once the plot unfolds, and most of the time a lot would have been solved if she had just talked so someone trustworthy about her problems. Instead she ends up under the control of Muriel.
There is an interesting difference between the German and the Italian Cut. In the German version, Muriel isn’t quite as evil. She isn’t a likable person by any means, being a social climber and showing no love or care whatsoever for Cindy, but considering what Cindy represents to her, her actions are to a certain degree understandable. In the Italian version there is not one bit sympathy left for her due to a few additional scenes in which, among other things, she forces Cindy to sleep in the servants room, changing her from an unloving to an abusive Stepmother. In both versions though, her so called family explains a lot about Cindy’s attitude. She is often very aggressive and fast to jump into any confrontation, but if you consider what she has to deal with at home every day, you get why she flies off the handle so fast whenever she feels that someone treats her unfairly.
Well, this is Cinderella and her family, now we need a prince. Who turns up dressed like a vagabond. Mizio (Miguel Eudizio) is the oldest son of the noble family Gherardeschi, but after his father undercut a romance he had with a commoner by paying her off, he rebelled and travelled around the world. Not that the movie reveals the fact immediately, it takes its time to introduce Mizio the way Cindy sees him, a talented young musician who might be poor, but is able to get by through a number of useful connections he has. Cindy has no idea that most of said connections are based on his family name – she actually suspects that he is exchanging “favours” with rich woman or might be involved in something illegal, and has a hard time to believe his excuses.
Mizio is a very contradictory character. He might rebel against his father, and rightly so, but he is also no above using his privileges when he feels like it. He initially lives in a “garden house” owned by his family until his father throws him out to make a point, and when he needs money, he blackmails his mother into giving him the sum. Even within his band he is not just the band leader, the other members treat him like their little king and allow him to make all the decisions to the point that they actually brought their instruments to the pawn shop to finance his traveling. All this makes his rebellious stance a little bit superficial. He might have a point in his desire to pave is own way in life, but as long as he uses the advantages of his birth whenever he runs into a problem, he hasn’t really disconnected from it. While his point of view is entirely understandable, he is not necessarily in the right with everything he does. Cindy is kind of similar in this regard, which makes them both such believable characters and a believable pair.
Btw, if the movie does have a weakness, than that there are a few coincidences too many in it. To list the most blatant ones: Cindy befriends Mizio and her neighbour Marianne, who is working as fortune teller. Said Marianne also happens to know Mizio because she had an affair with his father in the past, and is therefore able to point Cindy in the right direction more than once, thus taking the role of the fairy godmother. In addition Cindy’s sisters just happen to befriend Mizio’s sister, which leads to her Stepmother trying to get invitations to the ball which is part of every Cinderella adaptation. Though in this case, the ball is not related to Cindy’s dreams at all. Instead Mizio and Cindy spend most of the movie working on their music career and actually being in a relationship. They just scored a big gig which could be their breakthrough when the secrets they kept from each other lead to them breaking up. The ball is their last chance for reconciliation instead of a first or second meeting.
Another aspect which makes this adaptation different from others is that it manages to be romantic and realistic at once. It makes a point that Cindy’s outgoing personality and her willingness to accept people the way they are is a good thing. While Cindy is always surrounded by friends who are ready to help her out, Muriel keeps misjudging others because she only cares about how well-off they look. The movie even plays with the perception of the audience a couple of time by presenting a situation and then revealing that it actually isn’t what it seems to be to drive this point home. On the other hand though, Cindy’s open nature brings her in contact with questionable people more than once and at one point she is very lucky to escape a difficult situation largely unharmed, so the message of keeping an open mind does come with a warning not to be too careless.
Any idea of fate or magic is constantly undercut by the presence of Marianne, who is clearly a fraud. She tells her customers what they like to hear, sells so called “love poisons” and all kind of remedies which mostly have a placebo effect, and when it seems as if she actually did magic once in order to find Mizio for Cindy, it later turns out that she simply guessed based on what she already knew about him. And yet Marianne’s constant insistence that it sometimes doesn’t matter if something real or isn’t as long as you believe in it rings true.
Even the concept of romantic love takes a beating. There are a lot of different relationships presented, and they all show that marriage isn’t the sole key to happiness, no matter how much money is involved. There is the toxic relationship between Harry and Muriel, in which Muriel keeps punishing him for his past betrayal and is more interested in the money she can get from him than him as a person. There is an even more complicated one between Mizio’s parents, who are unable too divorce because they are “too catholic”, even though his father is constantly cheating on his mother, who is very unhappy despite all the money she owns. Then there is Mizio’s brother Egisto, who flirts openly with Carol, but later it turns out that he already is engaged to someone else and never intended to start something serious with her. And finally there are Mizio’s past relationships. He claims that he hides his true identity from Cindy because he believes that she would run away if she knew the truth, but once you consider that his first big love turned out to be more interested in money than in him, he actually might simply enjoy to have someone in his life who doesn’t know anything about his title.
Even Cindy’s and Mizio’s romance isn’t without its ups and downs. They spend more than a month together, and during this period they argue more than once. But they also offer each other a shoulder to lean on whenever one of them feels down, and they have their moments of total bliss including one really cheesy (in a good way) scene in which they spontaneously declare their love for each other in song. But despite those slightly unrealistic moments, this relationship feels real. Cindy and Mizio both grow due to their interaction with each other. Mizio teaches Cindy that it is sometimes a good idea to attack smartly instead of directly. And Cindy’s influence leads to Mizio facing the fact that he can’t really escape his noble birth completely. In the end, they have both learned that running away or hiding doesn’t solve anything and that they have to tackle their issues directly. And together.
Quote: “So ein Pech. Ich verspreche nämlich ganz und gar nichts.” (You are out of luck, I am not the type of girl who promises anything.)
Well, if you want to see a Cinderella adaptation in which the heroine actually does have options and works on a career in order to escape her stepmother, this is for you. It is a really charming take on the story, though I fear that there isn’t an English version of it. At least I couldn’t find one. But what is pretty easily to find is the soundtrack. Or the singing scenes…here is the link to one of the various playlists on youtube, which seems to have all the relevant scenes plus some songs which were only on the soundtrack:
And don’t worry, next week I will discuss an adaptation which most of you will at least know about for a change. Three guesses which one.