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“One for all and all for Suru!”

I grew up watching Zoobilee Zoo (1986-87). This predisposed me towards actors in colorful animal make-up who sing and dance. Sadly, there just aren’t shows like Zoobilee Zoo anymore. The days of actors strutting around in stylized costumes singing catchy songs seem to be behind us. Fortunately for me this predisposition makes me a sucker for Soviet children’s films. One of the most impressive and lavish is the Romanian rock opera Ma-ma (1976), aka Rock N’ Roll Wolf.

Ma-ma is thin on plot and heavy on pageantry in its adaptation of the Grimm fairytale “The Wolf and the Seven Kids”. The film is as much a musical revue starring the Moscow Circus and the Bolshoi Ballet as it is fairytale adaptation. For long stretches of the film the camera merely documents a performance of one kind or another (dancing, acrobatics, ice skating) while the narrative is put on pause.

This isn’t a weakness but a strength. The story of “The Wolf and the Seven Kids” (in this case five kids) could hardly fill an eighty minute movie. So instead the film opts to go the route of An American In Paris (1951) and embraces the kind of musical fantasia only possible on film. The “Ice Fairy” sequence is a good example of this as cinematographic effects and theatrical performance are synthesized into a single expression of mood, movement, and cinematic language.

The two leads, Rada (Lyudmila Gurchenko) and Suru (Mikhail Boyarsky) carry the film in many respects. As the mother goat and the wolf these two characters weave in and out of the musical revues thus connecting them with the minimal plot. Their abilities as dancers and singers are as essential as their inherent on screen charisma which director Elisabeta Bostan exploits with numerous close-ups. It’s the agency of Rada and Suru that give the disparate musical numbers their urgency.

But what is most substantive about Ma-ma is its style. This includes the sets, costumes, make-up, and music of the film. Ma-ma is an exercise in pure cinematic forms designed to capture movements dynamically. The effects of Ma-ma are inherently cumulative as each number out does the last in terms of performance. Bostan, who specialized in children’s films, does a tremendous job in executing these show stopping numbers. Ma-ma is essential Soviet cinema that needs to be experienced.