Ho ho howdy folkses! Welcome to the Fifth Day of The Twelve Days of Shitmas celebration for 2021! Our previous special was some 80's hot garbage from the UK, featuring an irritating ventriloqual duck and a metric shit tonne of lame jokes and tiresome tunes. It was, perhaps the pre-Twelfth-Day nadir of this year's entire list. Today we're taking things to the opposite extreme, presenting the very best of what we have on offer, which unfortunately means it's going to be a long, slow, bumpy ride downhill for you all from here.

Enjoy it while you can, people. Grab yourself a sweet, steaming bowl of sochivo, pour yourself a stiff vodka and raise a hearty glass to old Father Frost. It's time for a chudesno Shitmas treat, Soviet-style!

Shastlivogo der'movogo Rozhdestva tovarishch!

We're posting a brand-new review of a Christmas special every other day beginning December 3rd, culminating in what we consider the worst of the bunch on Christmas morning. By now you probably know about our new Secret Santa sneaky link feature. It's not the kind of sneaky link where you're happily married but your wife won't do the thing with the banana and the Cool Whip and the latex glove that you like so much because it makes her feel dirty and cheap, so you head over to Miss Trixie's place above the old laundromat on third street, where she'll not only put the glove and the banana all the way in she'll give you a vigorous handy to boot. Sadly it's just a sneaky link, hidden in one of the screenshots, to a weird or creepy depiction of Santa Claus that's almost as unpleasant and disturbing as some of the other things Miss Trixie is willing to do for twenty bucks.

If you've read much of my previous stuff here at MMT over the years, you might recall that I have a particular thing for folklore and fairy tales. Not the gutted-out, washed-up, bleached-and-sanitized-for-mass-consumption Disney variety, but authentic folklore and fairy tales that have grown organically and haphazardly through the oral traditions of many cultures and generations throughout human history.

I have a small library at home of stories and myths from all over the world and just can't get enough of the stuff, but much as I also love cinema, it's proven frustratingly difficult to find titles that capture the authentic feel of folklore on film. By and large European and Asian filmmakers have done a much better job at getting to the dark, weird heart of it than American filmmakers have, with Francesco Stefani's The Singing, Ringing Tree (1958) from East Germany perhaps being best known example of the form abroad, but no one I know of tackled the genre with more consistently bizarre and entertaining results that Soviet director Aleksandr Rou.

He looks like a branch manager at a a bank in New Jersey.

Rou specialized in folktale and fantasy films, full of theatrical artifice, garish lighting and bold color palettes, like storybook illustrations come to life. In fact, sixteen of his eighteen directorial credits are films of this type, and the eight of them I've been able to track down have been remarkable for their beauty, absurdity and expressiveness. His vivid, eerie, visually dense style presaged the work of such directors as Terry Gilliam and Tarsem Singh, bringing rustic, old-world peasant culture to life while capturing the dark, potent eeriness of collective myth-logic. He's amongst my favorite directors, and Evenings on a Farm Near Didanka is one the best of his films that I've had the good fortune to see.

The movie is based on an early work by Nikolai Gogol, a brilliant Russo-Ukrainian novelist whose often grotesque and surreal aesthetic cast a long and penetrating shadow throughout Russian and world literature. Fans of weird cinema would most likely know his work from a pair of adaptations of his folk-horror novella Viy. A famous and faithful retelling from 1967 is the better known and regarded, with a less faithful, fantasy-centric version released internationally in 2014. Mario Bava's classic Black Sunday (1960) was loosely based on the story, as well.

Better to find this at my door than a Jehovah's Witness, I suppose.

Whereas Viy was a self-contained work with wild folk creatures emerging largely from Gogol's sinister imagination, the two volumes of Evenings on a Farm Near Didanka were themed collections of short tales drawing inspiration from the writer's own childhood as a peasant in the Ukraine, incorporating folk stories and local superstitions as related to him by his mother. The film Evenings on a Farm Near Didanka is an adaptation of the first story of the second volume, Christmas Eve, literally translated as The Night Before Christmas, the latter of which was also the title for the film's international release.

I will be reviewing Aleksandr Rou's original, uncut, one hour and six minutes-long Russian language version of the film, with subtitles in English.

The opening credits for our featured players also serve to introduce the characters of our pre-Christmas tale, with a voiceover narration giving us a little pertinent background on each of them to ease us into the story.

Chub the Cossack, an old widower, was a pompous fellow, we're told, and his daughter Oksana was the most beautiful girl in the village, enchanting to the eye yet full of caprices. The Blacksmith Vakula was honest, handsome and strong, in love with Oksana and willing to face any ordeal to win her hand. Solokha, Vakula's widowed mother was the tavern keeper, also the belle-dame of the village elders and the object of their collective desires. She was much pursued, much admired but also a keeper of secrets. There were also a church Sacristan with a fondness for drink, a crusty old man named Panas and his snack-sniffing wife, a drunken Weaver and a sinister old sinner named Patsyuk, whom all the villagers believed to be in league with Satan himself.

Welcome to Didanka.

The bright crescent moon rises over the snowy village of Didanka, bathing the atmosphere with its mysterious cool light. No sooner has it reached its apogee a woman on a broom emerges from one of the chimneys and soars into the sky, plucking stars from the ether and collecting them in a silken sack.

Look at that grip! I'll bet she'd do the thing with the banana and the Cool Whip and the latex glove.

This is Solokha, the pious Blacksmith's mum, and right out of the gate we see that her secret is that she's a witch!

Down below we see a furry little Devil--not the Devil, mind you, just a mid-level associate Devil who's been assigned to the village to start some shit. He climbs up on top of her roof, where he leans on the chimney to admire her witchy antics. She sees him there and gives him a broad, sultry grin. She and this Devil are old friends, partners in crime, if you will, co-conspirators in the infernal mischief that can only be performed when the veil between good and evil is lowered on the night of Christmas Eve.

He's warming the banana as we speak.

The little Devil may love Momma Solokha, but he can't stand her son Vakula. He's honest and pious, strong and good and handsome. He's everything the Devil isn't and everything the Devil loathes. He also fancies himself something a painter, and that's where their mostly one-sided feud comes in.

Probably not much competition to be fair.

You see, Vakula painted a nice little mural in the village church, showing the various citizens using pitchforks and shovels to force a little Devil into a vat of oil. There's a fun little sequence here where we see the devil imagining the tortures depicted in his mind's eye. The camera slowly zooms in on the painting, and it comes to life via some old-timey Walt Disnyevich-style animation.

That's a hot ass.

Since the Blacksmith first created this insulting magnum opus the Devil has had it in for him, swearing to find some way to get revenge. He's not a terribly imaginative Devil, however, and "revenge" seems to consist of playing petty tricks on him. When the Blacksmith leaves his forge with a heavy sack on his back, for example, and heads out along a narrow, steep and slippery path, the Devil follows him at a discreet distance for a bit then leaps on his back as he's ascending a hill, causing him to fall backwards and get covered with snow.

Ooh, epic grade-school burn!

The stout fellow is unfazed, of course and simply brushes himself off, intent of going his way. When he picks up the sack and swings it back over his shoulder it hits the hapless Devil so hard in the face that he slides all the way back to the village, only stopping when he slams into the wall of one of the houses, just to one side of a brightly lit window.

Inside we see Cossack Chub getting ready to go out to a big holiday booze-up at the Sacristan's house, chatting with old man Panas about it as daughter Oksana helps him put a red sash around his waist. Hearing of this festive visit across town gives the Devil an idea.

He knows the Blacksmith is waiting for an opportunity to visit Oksana, and he likewise knows he wouldn't dare show up while her father is there. If only he can somehow dissuade the old Cossack and his pal from leaving the house he can thwart his enemy's designs and get his revenge. He figures if he steals the moon, it'll be too dark for them to travel, so he makes a whopping great leap into the sky and goes dog-paddling through the air towards his goal.

That's one way to keep fit.

When he gets to the moon it's too cold to touch, but thankfully he has a canvas sack handy, which he throws over the crescent and pulls shut, casting the village into darkness. The first villager to notice this is Momma S, who's still flying about gathering stars in her sack. She looks over at her furry friend and smiles at him again, and seeing that he's tired from his "swim" she gives him a ride back to the roof of her house on her broom, with both of them giggling and flirting as they go.

Chub and old man Panas step outside to enjoy some snuff before walking over to the Sacristan's house. Immediately they wonder where the hell the moon could have gotten to on such a clear, crisp night, and complain about this sudden stygian darkness when they've got free vodka and borscht waiting for them across town. As they chatter, Oksana steps to the window, eavesdropping with bated breath to know whether they'll be going or staying, and whether she will be seeing her Blacksmith so she can torment him with her coy and temperamental ways. When she hears Chub convince the reticent retiree that it will still be safe to walk she smiles in youthful excitement, grabbing a handful of ribbons from a basket and skipping away to her room to make herself extra pretty for her tryst.

I had a cousin who looked just like her. She was also coy and temperamental.

Back on the rooftop Momma S pops down the chimney, sliding into a secret chamber behind the fireplace where she keeps an enormous cauldron. The Devil is about to follow, still thinking about that Cool Whip no doubt, but just as he sets one foot in the chimney he sees Chub and Panas steadfastly marching towards the other side of the village, carrying his hopes of revenge with them. He leaves the moon on the roof and slides down to follow.

Meanwhile Momma S dumps the stars in her cauldron and sets the lid on to keep them in.

You can't be too careful when you're the town witch.

She carefully opens a secret panel above the mantle and peers out into the public room of the tavern to make sure her son isn't around, then hops down to have some refreshments and wait for the Devil to get done whatever he's doing so he can stop in for a drink and a giggle.

The Devil, in the meantime, can see his dreams collapsing before him and needs to think of something fast. He starts kicking up snow like a dog burying a bone, summoning up a windstorm that seems to blow from all directions at once. It's a surreal, theatrical, slapstick sequence full of odd camera angles and strange moving lights, conveying both the chaos of the storm and the eerie, confounding effect it has on the travelers.

Eventually Chub and Panas get separated, spirited away from one another by the pernicious winds and dark enchantments of the Devil's befuddling spell. Panas finds his house and runs in, but Chub is still out in the elements, alone, and decides to make his way home.

The Blacksmith, in the meantime has done a little midnight creep around the back of Oksana's house and is peering through her window, watching her moon at herself in the mirror and listening to her talk foolishly to herself as young maidens sometimes do. Well, I suppose that's what they do. I've honestly never spied on any of my exes through their bedroom windows.

That's what hidden cameras are for.

She goes back and forth a bit trying on different ribbons, pouting and posing for the mirror, trying to decide whether or not she's as pretty as all the other villagers say. She preens and prates on about her eyes, her lips and her cheeks, making faces in the mirror at herself until she finally decides that yes, she is as cute as not one, not two, but all the buttons, every bit as pretty as all those jealous little ho's at church grudging believe her to be. It's a scene you might well imagine happening today, except instead of a mirror she'd be making duck lips at her cell-phone and posting it on Instagram.

"And you can see even more of me on my Only Fans page!"

Outside the window the Blacksmith is beginning to suspect she's what you might call "high maintenance." He whispers to himself that she's been at it for a full hour and never seems to get enough of herself, which should wave a gargantuan red flag flanked by banks of swaying klieg lights blinking out "Run The Fuck Away" in morse code, but instead of skedaddling he becomes even more determined to win her affections.

She completes her narcissistic self-evaluation by speaking of the beautiful silks and ribbons her father bought for her "for the finest young man in the world to marry me," and just as she closes her eyes to imagine that happy day the Blacksmith appears behind her.

Gorgeous composition. One of my favorite shots in the film.

At first Oksana is startled and pretends to be angry with the Blacksmith, but she can't help but blush as she tries to hide a smile. She teases and insults him, asking petulantly if he's completed a decorative storage chest he'd promised to build her. He tells her it will be ready for Christmas, painted with such artful delicacy that she'd find nothing so wonderful anywhere else in Didanka. As she harumphs and turns back to her mirror, he begs her not to be angry with him, to let him look at her, speak to her, to bask in her unearthy perfection.

Oh, my. That boy is whipped.

She teases him further that she will be going carol singing with her girlfriends later, and that the other lads from the village will be there to make merry with them, maybe she'll have a better time with those jocular fellows than with his sorry, lugubrious self.

Just then there's a banging at the windows as her father arrives home, followed by the Devil who's still blowing up a windstorm around him, still befuddling him into a state of squint-eyed confusion. When he goes to open the door, Chub has his hat pulled down and his muffler pulled up so that the Blacksmith doesn't immediately recognize him, and the Devil bewitches him to behave like some singing vagabond looking for handouts.

Already angry and hurt by Oksana's cold mocking, the Blacksmith loudly berates his true love's father and pushes him away into the snow, going back inside the house without at first realizing what he's done and to whom he's done it.

The Devil calls the winds back to their homes now and retreats, confident that he's gotten the revenge he seeks, that Chub will give the Blacksmith a good drubbing and banish him from his home forever over his impertinence.

Chub picks himself up, dusts himself off and hollers angrily that he'll get the law on the upstart lad. It doesn't look good for Vakula, but then the old Cossack suddenly remembers his own long-neglected penis. He realizes that if the Blacksmith is here at his own house then he clearly isn't at his home, and if he isn't at his home that means his Momma is probably all alone at the tavern, possibly only partially clad and maybe in need of some horizontal Christmas cheer.

Chub puts the defense of his daughter's honor on the backburner and sets out to arrange a sneaky link of his own with his nemesis' mother.

The Devil, meanwhile has already arrived at Solokha's house and slides down the chimney with the captive moon in hand. As he struggles to his feet he loses his grip and it slips from the bag, flying straight up out of the chimney to resume its proper place in the firmament, brightly illuminating the village once more so that the inhabitants may step out and begin their tradtional Christmas Eve festivities.

Carolers emerge, carrying brightly-painted stars with nativity scenes and singing their lovely and haunting traditional songs of the season.

And all bad people can get cholera and die.

An old villager and his wife sit at their kitchen table listening to the music-makers, reminiscing about Christmases past when they, too went caroling with their cloth sacks, receiving candy, cakes and gifts from the people whose houses they'd visited.

It was a comforting, life-affirming tradition passed from family to family and generation to generation since time immemorial, only to be banned, along with Christmas itself, by the Communist party in 1929, relegated to the pages of pre-revolutionary history. By 1961 some traditions of Christmas had returned, shifted to New Years' Day and transformed into secular celebrations, and restrictions on others had eased to the point that these scenes of religious expression could at least be recreated on film. They're presented as a rousing, joyous time of faith and goodwill, a time of thankfulness and community for which many older Soviet citizens who may have seen this film upon its initial release doubtless longed.

Back at the tavern the Devil emerges from the secret door above the fireplace. He and Momma S snicker and flirt, but he can't enter the room until she's stepped across the room and covered her little Christian shrine with a curtain, hiding the images of Jesus from the infernal fellow's view. Once he's free to enter he prances over towards a table laden with food and drink as she grins and laughs at him.

Her son the Blacksmith isn't so jovial. He stands stiff and frowning as Oksana's giggling girlfriends pour in to show off their carol-captured booty. Her bestie does a bouncy little jig, and the vain, covetous Oksana notices she's got a fancy new pair of red slippers on her feet, bright, shiny and trimmed in gold. The Blacksmith tells her not to worry, he will get her a pair of slippers so fine nary a lady in the village will have seen the like of them.

She turns to him and laughs cruelly, loudly mocking him for the amusement of her friends, saying that she'd like to know how he, a common blacksmith, could possibly find a pair of slippers worthy of her.

Coooold blooded!

She announces, with all her girlfriends as witnesses, that should he bring her the very slippers the Tsarina herself wears, she will marry him that very day.

Meanwhile Momma S and the Devil are having a grand old time, chatting and laughing and joking and drinking, sharing tales of their black-magic shenanigans and swapping recipes for witches' brew.

They do make a cute couple.

There's a sharp knock at the door and the two freeze mid-laugh. On hearing the revered Head of the Village announce his presence Momma S realizes she needs to hide the Devil fast, lest her secret life of witchery be exposed to the entire town.

She shouts "Just a minute!" and quickly shoves the Devil into an old coal sack she has setting by the fireplace. The Head of the village comes in smiling and stroking his mustache, thinking no doubt of a different kind of stroking he might get a little later on, hopefully involving the Little Head of the village he keeps in his pants. Momma steps over to him with a vodka on a platter, initiating some small talk and shiftily glancing at her friend in the sack, wondering how she suddenly ended up in the middle of a 1970's sex farce.

"Gotta fuel the hump machine, baby!"

No sooner has the randy old bastard sucked down his drink there's another knock, and they hear the voice of the Sacristan, who after his own little booze party went bust because of the weather decided he needed a little succor to get him through the night.

The Head of the village, of course, can't possibly be discovered in this compromising position, drinking alone with a widow, especially by one of the officials of their town's church, so just as quick as you like he, too finds himself tucked into a coal sack, crouching by the door as quiet as a mouse, hoping the interloper might just be looking for a quick Christmas tithe and will soon be on his way.

Those hopes are quickly dashed as the windy and loquacious old bugger begins talking a blue streak, complaining of his ruined party and repeatedly attempting to snatch a grope at Momma S's ample behind. He steps over to adjust the oil lamp at the shrine and blesses himself, then sets down to a vodka and some snacks.

Admitting you have a problem is only the first step.

As the old reprobate is just about to lean in for a good slobber, his Little Sacristan ready and willing to perform some private devotions, there's yet another knock at the door. This time it's Chub calling to be let in from the cold.

Luckily Momma S is a forward-thinking, economical kind of a gal and always keeps a few extra coal sacks lying around for just these sorts of emergencies. Once the Sacristan is snug inside one the busy, busty babe welcomes Chub, who seems fairly keen on giving her a Little Chub as a special gift to keep her warm over the winter.

Little chubs are a dime a dozen. She's got them stashed everywhere.

Poor Chub doesn't even manage to get the cup of vodka in his hand before he, too gets mercilessly cock-blocked, this time by Vikula, banging on the door and asking his mom to unbar it for him. She's finally run out of sacks, so she stuffs Chub in with the Sacristan.

The Blacksmith enters in a foul mood, and as he sits down by the window to brood there's yet another knock at the door. As Momma S heads out to see who it is, our poor, lovesick hero indulges in a forlorn inner monologue, lamenting that try though he might, he just can't banish the fickle, faithless Oksana from his thoughts.

"Why can't I quit her?"

Outside we see the old Weaver, already drunk and swaying, and he passes out in the snow to Solokha's hearty guffaws. Witches sure do have a lot of laughs, don't they? Inside, Vikula looks around the cottage and sees the lumpy coal sacks cluttering up the place. Thinking they're garbage he tosses them roughly into a pile with the intention of hauling them away and burning them.

The village, meanwhile, is alive with revelry. Folks are dancing and singing, sledding and snowball fighting, and generally enjoying themselves in the fine, bright, snowy night with a festive community shindig. The strong-backed but melancholy Blacksmith carries the sacks up towards his smithy, and as he reaches the door he sees Oksana flirting and cavorting with some of the young rakes from the village.

The on-again, off-again lovers lock eyes, and for an instant a flash of remorse mars Oksana's countenance, but it passes quickly and she returns to her fun, purposely allowing the boys to kiss her cheeks in front Vikula to demonstrate her independence. Again she confronts and teases him before their peers, asking if he got anything for his carols and has he managed to get the Tsarina's slippers for her as she asked of him.

She has finally gone too far now and he calls her out on it, silencing the crowd with his anger, telling her to find any lover she likes, make a fool of whom she will, but she will not see him again in this world. He throws down two of the sacks and runs off with third, leaving her to lament her rashness and the cruelty of her whims. She gives him a longing glance, then at the urging of her companions she rejoins their revels, though now her frolics are tainted with the stain of her guilt.

You done fucked up, girl.

An old crone sees Vikula running off, and believing he means to commit suicide she calls together all the other old crones and tells them he's already done it, setting in motion gears of gossip that will eventually factor into our inconstant heroine's third-act redemption.

Of course he hasn't killed himself, but he's sure thinking about it. He heads to a frozen lake and finds a hole in the ice that's been left by some fisherman. In anguish he throws the sack into it, but it bobs back up onto the snowbank, splashing him in the face with the ice cold water and bringing him at least partway back to his senses.

He asks himself if he isn't being a bit hasty, if there isn't perhaps another way to repair his broken heart and bring him what he desires. Suddenly he remembers Patsyuk, the wily old hermit on the outskirts of town, whom everyone believes is a sorcerer with the powers of Satan himself at his command. If he's to be damned anyway why let it be by killing himself? Perhaps he might strike some demonic bargain and at least enjoy a life and marriage with Oksana before he has to got to Hell.

The Devil in the sack senses these internal deliberations and figures things are turning out way better than he ever could have hoped for, that even if Vakula gets the girl he will have become an irredeemable sinner to do it, and he will have bagged another soul for his boss.

Back in the snow path the three prominent village elders, still stuck in their sacks, are damn near freezing to death, afraid to move or speak lest they draw attention to themselves and be humiliated in front of the entire town. Oksana and her cronies come across them and try to drag them away to see what's in them, but they find they're too heavy for delicate girly arms to move. They decide to go sledding instead, and when they've gotten out of earshot one of the sacks gets up and lumbers away.

The Blacksmith reaches the hut of Patsyuk the sorcerer. He hesitates a moment outside of it, unsure if this is a step he's willing to take, but thoughts of Oksana's moist, pouting lips and big blue eyes help him overcome his fears. He gingerly steps into the house to find the fellow there waiting for him.

Sitting before Patsyuk are two bowls, one full of perogies and the other full of sour cream. He cocks an eyebrow at the former and one of the perogies leaps from one bowl to the other. He moves his face gently in a circle, making the pastry spin in the condiment until it's fully coated in curdled dairy goodness, then opens his mouth so the perogy can jump into it on its own.

This is better than an Automat.

"Great. Now I'm hungry, too."

Well, that clears up whether or not the rumors about Patsyuk are true, I suppose. Normal God-fearing, non-sorcerin' folk sure can't do that with a perogie.

Vakula is cowed by this sudden reality of his asking for help from the Devil and dooming himself for all eternity, but he boldly plows on. He asks Patsyuk what is to be done. The old fellow wipes his lips and replies "If you need the Devil, go to the Devil." Vakula says yeah, dude, that's why I came to you, 'cause everybody knows you and he are like besties and go clubbing on the weekends and shit, but the fat, cryptic sinner-gourmand tells him:

Nope, this guy's not creepy. Not at all.

Patsyuk finishes all but one of the perogies then sends the last of them flying into the Blacksmith's mouth as a sort of "welcome to the dark side, we have snacks" kind of thing, and he laughs his fat ass off as Vakula spits it out and backs the hell out of the place, coming to rest on a rock outside and letting the sack fall to the ground behind him.

As he wipes the splatter of sour cream from his face with his fuzzy Cossack hat, the little hairy Devil pops out of the sack and hops up next to him, promising to give him as much money as he wants and Oksana, too, if only he's willing to make a deal and sign a contract. Vakula says sure, he's ready. He'll even sign it in blood if that's still in vogue, so just wait until he sees if he has a nice, sharp nail in his pocket to prick his finger with and...

...quick as lightning our hero grabs the Devil by the tail, gives it a vicious twist and starts beating him with a switch. He pulls him between his legs and mounts him, not in a "now you're gonna get my banana" kind of way, but in a "I know you bitches can fly, so take me to the palace of the Tsarina" kind of way. As we've seen, the blacksmith is almost preternaturally strong, able to carry three men and a little Devil on one shoulder as if they were sacks of feathers, so the Imp has no choice but to obey him.

It's not what it looks like, I swear.

So off they go, soaring into the night sky towards St. Petersburg. The Devil tries to throw Vakula off his back, but the Blacksmith is ready for it and grasps hold of his tail with his vice-like fists, climbing steadily until he's remounted him. He smacks him in the face a few times to let him know who the dom is in their relationship, and grabs him by his horns to steer him. The Devil gets tired at one point and starts to drift off into a nap, but Vikula wakes him and forces him onward towards their goal.

"I will not make anal sex jokes in class...I will not make anal sex jokes in class..."

As they descend on the city the Devil asks if he should take him straight inside the palace to the Tsarina, but Vikula tells him to take him down at the edge of the district instead.

The model work is outstanding.

When they alight, the Blacksmith twists the Devil's tail again and tells him to get in his pocket, so he shrinks himself down and hops in, and after a hip-smack warning he orders him to take him to "the Zaporozhians," an ethnic Cossack group with a tumultuous history, who at this time had close ties with the imperial government and served various diplomatic functions.

Back in Didanka the drunk old Weaver stumbles out from Momma Solokha's tavern, much worse for wear and cursing the inkeeper's name for turning him out when he was just warming up to his quest to die of alcohol poisoning before New Years' day.

As he stumbles away towards home he sees one of the sacks shuffling towards him in the moonlight. He shouts for it to stay away and ducks behind a tree to hide. At the sound of this the sack stops and sits inert in the roadway, so that when the old drunk appears again he thinks it was just the booze playing tricks on him. Still, a sack in the roadway must have something good in it, right? As he struggles to drag it away old Panas, the dude who got separated from Chub back in the first act, comes wandering along. He's also drunk, and since he has nothing better to do at the moment he agrees to help the Weaver drag the sack away for half of the goodies it contains.

Two drunken Russians? Who ever heard of such a thing?

After a close call where they have to drop the sack and sit on it to hide it from a group of carolers, they decide to take it to Panas' hut to divide its spoils. Panas assures the Weaver that his ever-peckish and nosey-newsy wife is not at home, so they can have whatever it contains all to themselves, but as soon as they get there she leaps out like slightly cross-eyed vulture, twitching her nose and looking to see what delightful dainties they may have brought her. As they fuss and fight over it, the sack sits up and groans, sending them all scurrying to the corner and crossing themselves against the powers of hell.

A pair of hands emerges, then a face, then Chub pops his head out, laughing heartily. He asks if they enjoyed his "little joke," palpably relieved at having a reasonable excuse for being in a coal sack in the middle of the road. He steps over to the astonished onlookers, then notices that there's still something else in the sack...and it's moving!

It seems Chub thought he was stuck in there with something like a big side of bacon, not something alive, so he's just as frightened as the others to see it sit up on its own. Knowing the jig is up, the Sacristan emerges calmly and puts on his little ecclesiastical hat, completely dead-pan-like, and Chub divines the entire scenario from back at the inn. He bursts out laughing and mutters in astonishment, "Solokha! What a woman!"

More woman than these two amateurs can handle, that's for sure.

Back in St. Petersburg the Blacksmith has secreted himself into the lavish home of the Zaporozhian diplomats. He finds them smoking their pipes and debating their politics, and when he announces himself as "Vakula the blacksmith," they all stare at him blankly like he's got a dick on his forehead.

He reminds then that they had passed through Didanka in the fall and stayed at his mother's inn for two days. He turns to one of them, who looks like that dude who beat the shit out of Indiana Jones then got his face spread all over a flying wing by its propeller, and jovially reminds him that he put a new iron hoop on his carriage wheel. The guy raises a candelabra to get a better look at his face and finally recognizes him.

"Oh, you know him...the guy with the dick on his forehead!"

They all give him a hearty welcome then tell him they'll have to catch up with him later, as they're about to head out to pay respects to the Tsarina! Not wanting to miss this astonishing opportunity he asks them to take him along. It's is a patently absurd suggestion, but the guy whose wagon wheel he fixed says why the hell not? Dress him up like one us and give the kid a thrill. Live a little. One by one they all agree that it will be a fine lark, and as easy as you like there he is, dressed like a fine gentleman cossack, stepping into the Tsarina's palace, staring wide-eyed like a babe in fairyland.

He doesn't have one of these back at the forge, that's for sure.

He follows them up an opulent staircase, flanked with marble columns with gold-leaf finials and with rows of silent footmen on the landings on either side. He repeatedly falls behind, gob-smacked by the grandeur of it all and, as a craftsman, in awe of the workmanship that made it possible.

As they ascend to the final landing, the great statesman Grigory Potemkin appears, with his eyepatch and gold snuff box, and the whole gang of Zaporozhians drop to the floor prostrate as a sign of their obedience. He tells them to behave as he has taught them when they meet the Tsarina, and just as soon as he's said it a pair of footmen open an elaborate pair of doors and Catharine the Great herself appears with her entourage of ladies-in-waiting.

She's the O.G. cougar MILF.

The Tsarina asks them to get up, but just as ol' Grigory instructed, they remain face-down and reply "We will die, Mother, but we will not get up!"

This amuses the notoriously mischievous empress. She tells them her buddy Potemkin here promised her for Christmas that he would get her acquainted with some of her people, so let's get to it! She asks a few perfunctory questions about how they're feeling, and how well they're treated here in St. Pete, did they catch the Macy's parade at Thanksgiving, and if so, which was their favorite float? A couple of them nervously reply that they are getting along very well, thank you. They tell her they're pretty much to a man parade float traditionalists, so Snoopy and Woodstock were probably the ones they liked best.

The conversation seems to make Catharine bored, so her eyes wander until she notices handsome Vakula, upright on his knees in awe, rather than prostrate in respect. Catharine the great was also notorious for her sexual appetites, so the well-formed strength of the masquerading peasant likely atracted her attention even more so than his posture. She arches an eyebrow seductively and asks "What is it you want?"

The devil sticks his head out of the pocket for an instant and tells Vakula that this is it, bro, it's now or never, probably hoping to spur the Blacksmith into doing something ignorant to piss off the Tsarina and get himself burned, poisoned, hanged, drowned, shot and castrated like his old pal Rasputin.

Vakula lurches forward and scurries through the crowd of his benefactors. He kneels directly before the Tsarina, and begging not to be punished for his insolence, he asks "Of what, be it said without offence to your royal grace, are the slippers made of on your feet?" He remarks at their exceptional beauty and workmanship and plainly offers that he wishes his wife could wear such slippers.

The assembled courtiers and supplicants are shocked, and the Zaporozhians are mortified, but thankfully the Tsarina does not take offence. In fact, she's been completely charmed by this impulsive fellow's quaint and seemimgly unaffected display. She laughs heartily, probably more authentically than she has for many months, surrounded as she is by sycophants 24/7, and you can see the relief on the faces of everyone around her as she smiles at the comical absurdity of this bold young man and his weird shoe fetish.

Say what you will about his haircut, he's got balls like a prize Russian bull.

Even better than his not getting burned, poisoned, hanged, drowned, shot and castrated, the Tsarina actually removes her slippers and presents them to him as a gift for his "wife."

Speaking of that fair, mercurial maiden who's not yet his wife but (spoiler) probably soon will be, she and her pals are still sledding and when they end up back where they left the Blacksmith's discarded sacks they're surprised to see that there's one missing. They think maybe they can manage to drag just this one back to her father's house to see what's inside it, but just as they get it into the front room, the village Head starts shouting from inside it like a ghost to frighten them off, hoping to be left alone long enough to make his escape.

The girls all run out screaming just as Chub is getting home. He asks what's going on and Oksana tells him there's a sack inside the house with someone in it. He asks where they got it and when she tells him Vakula dropped it he clears his throat nervously, but decides he'd better go in and see. After grabbing a stick and poking at it a few times Chub figures the Devil himself must be in there. He begs pardon for not addressing him by his proper name, but asks that he please remove himself from both the bag and the premises. Next thing you know the Head's head pops out, his face covered in gray soot.


The girls flee the scene, thinking Satan is pursuing them, but Chub squints and realizes who it is. They make awkward small talk, trying to act like nothing unusual has happened, and after a few pleasantries the Head excuses himself to go home and attend to his duties. Chub puts the pieces together again and has another wheezy chortle at that hot buttered babe Solokha and her wild, sexy ways.

Later, when the revels and fun are over and the town has gone to sleep, Oksana lies in her bed, haunted by guilt for her cruel treatment of Vakula. She sees his pleading face before her, realizes how deeply he loved her, how fine and strong and honest a man he is, and now that she believes she has driven him away forever, she finally realizes that she loves him, too.

Should have thought of that before, you brazen hussy.

Early Christmas morning, before the break of day, the Blacksmith arrives back in Didanka, wearing his new fancy robes and his swanky Zaporozhian hat. The Devil tries to scurry away but he grabs it by the tail, saying "Wait a bit! I haven't thanked you yet!" He proceeds to beat the Devil's ass with a stick, then kicks him away.

The fully cowed creature goes running clear out of town, across the hillside and all the way to the lake where he sticks his sore, weary ass in the fishing hole, never to fuck with the Blacksmith again.

The sun rises and the villagers wake up, have their Christmas breakfasts and prepare themselves for the holiest day of the year. An old vagabond leans against a tree at the edge of the Churchyard and churns away on a hurdy gurdy, and the townsfolk pause to listen to his haunting song on their way to the sacred services.

Fun fact: Hurdy gurdies are fucking expensive. I've been saving up for eighteen months to buy one of these, and I'll just be putting my deposit down on it shortly after New Years'.

Chub walks past a couple of old women who are arguing back and forth, Rabbit Season/Duck Season-style, with one saying "He drowned himself!" and the other insisting "He hanged himself!"

Actually, you're all lying.

Chub asks Panas if it's true the Blacksmith drowned himself and he says that sadly, yes it is. Chub immediately laments at the loss, what a fine painter he was, etc., completely ignoring how he was shouting to have him arrested just the night before.

During the church service Oksana stands at the front of the congregation, listening to the holy chants and staring at the icon of Mary and baby Jesus above the altar, but her thoughts are of poor Vakula, drowned for her sake because she spurned him on a whim, because she teased him and hurt him, simply because he loved her so much she knew she could.

I wouldn't.

Later Chub and Panas are back at the Cossack's house, just sitting down to their Christmas feast. They raise a glass to the repose of Vakula's soul, but before they can suck it down the handsome Blacksmith himself steps in.

"I'm back, bitches!"

At first they think he's an unquiet spirit, wandering in a walking purgatory for his ultimate sin, but when he reaches the table and kneels down, asking Chub "Forgive me, Father," they realize he's flesh and blood, and very much alive.

Chub steps over and Vikula presents him with a whip, saying he may beat him as much as he likes as punishment for his transgressions. He lowers his head before him, and Chub delivers three half-assed blows before laughing and telling him "That's enough. Always obey your elders and we'll forget everything that's passed between us." He also asks him to tell him what he wants, as if he didn't already know. When Vikula asks for Oksana's hand in marriage the cheerful Cossack says "Why not? Send for the matchmakers!"

Oksana herself enters now and gets the shock of her young life, to see her beau standing there, ressurected and radiant in his robes, not merely in spirit but in powerful, sinewy flesh.

They walk slowly towards one another, mesmerized, enchanted, floating across the floor as in a waking dream. Vakula uncovers the slippers, "The same as the tsarina wears," but Oksana tells him she doesn't want the slippers. She only wants him.

The End.

Obviously I adore this film. No movie is flawless, of course, but some are closer than others and Evenings on a Farm near Didanka is rather close. There's perhaps just a bit too much slapstick, and the middle of the first act drags a bit, but once it gets going it moves at a brisk pace, giving us wondrous sights, engaging characters, and a beautifully rendered world where the veil between the natural and supernatural is paper thin and ever-shifting.

In folklore the visible and invisible live side-by-side in a sort of ever-renewing truce, God and the Devil, angels and demons, fairies and monsters, even Heaven and Hell are as real and present as our neighbors, our families and our communities, and though the harsh realities of human life are never far away, if we listen to the best in ourselves and strive to work hard and do good, we can achieve the most supreme of all attainments: decency, compassion, forgiveness and love. It's a lesson that's been passed down through all of human history, and sadly, it's a lesson most of us have yet to learn.

Shitmas Bonus!
Ded Moroz & Snegurochka!

As mentioned above, Christmas as a religious holiday was banned by the communist party in 1927, because communists hate fun and fear the power of spiritual and social institutions. Still, there was a craving, even amongst the party elite, for some of the comforting holiday rituals many of them had enjoyed with their families in the times before the glorious revolution. Bringing Christmas back entirely was a hard nyet, but in 1934 many of its imperial-era trappings, including gaily-decorated pine trees, festive greeting cards and the giving of gaudily-wrapped gifts were revived and repurposed as part of the country's New Years' Day celebrations.

Look how happy Lenin is. He was just a big kid himself!

Revived, too was the Russian version of Santa Claus, Father Frost (Ded Moroz), and his fur-clad, smokin' hot daughter Ice Maiden (Snegurochka).

She could butter my borscht anytime.

When these two historial folk icons returned from their brief exile, Snow Maiden opted for a low profile, keeping her pretty head down and just going with the anti-capitalist flow, but Father Frost went all-in on towing the party line, appearing in party propaganda for decades and hob-knobbing with soviet and post-soviet power players, up to and including Russian leaders of today.

Please enjoy this brief picture gallery of old Father Frost turned bad, Bolshevik and beyond.

"All those on the naughty list we send to the gulag."

Das vedanya, capalist swine!

Merry Christmas, folkses.

Next Installment: December 13th!

As always, Cheers and thanks for reading!

Written by Bradley Lyndon in December, 2021.

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