The Christmas movie that became Switzerland's most-watched film ever
From humble beginnings and a small production budget, "Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel" has become the seminal Christmas film across much of Europe - including Switzerland.
Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel - otherwise known in English as Three Wishes/Gifts For Cinderella (or Three Hazelnuts For Cinderella in a direct translation) - is a fairytale film originally produced in 1973 which has gone on to become a Christmas staple across much of Europe.
The film, a co-production between Czechoslovakian and East German production companies, is watched during the festive season in much of central and Eastern Europe, particularly in Austria, Czech Republic, Germany, Norway, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Ukraine, Russia - and of course Switzerland.
A study completed by Swiss daily Watson in tandem with national broadcaster Schweizer Radio und Fernsehen (SRF) showed that the movie is the most watched in Swiss history, finishing ahead of other favourites of the Swiss. The top five is rounded out by three James Bond films and 1998’s The Horse Whisperer.
Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel is shown once per year in the Christmas period. This year, SRF will show the movie for a 26th time on December 22nd at 3:55pm. In neighbouring Germany, the film was screened 12 times from December 24th to 28th in 2018, a pattern which is pretty much repeated every year.
The Christmas classic which isn’t a Christmas film at all
The plot of the movie has all of the staples you’d come to expect from a European fairytale, including a beautiful yet poorly treated servant girl who may *spoiler alert* become princess, an evil stepmother, a handsome prince looking to be wed, an ugly sister, magic hazelnuts which grant wishes, a lost slipper - and an assortment of forest creatures with our heroine’s best wishes at heart.
Indeed, despite being a Christmas classic - the movie isn’t really a Christmas film at all, in that it doesn’t have any of the hallmarks of a traditional Christmas film.
The movie was originally set during summer, but was later moved by the director to winter as the film crew had plenty of work in the summer.
As it wasn’t cold enough at all of the shooting locations to guarantee snow, much of it was artificial - with fishmeal the most commonly used substitute, which led to some notoriously bad odours on set.
The movie was made against a backdrop of controversy, with screenwriter Frantisek Pavlicek - who adapted the movie from original Brothers Grimm tales - suffering under a ban from the Czech government when the movie was made and credited under a pseudonym.
Although the film may seem a tad outdated by modern standards in its depictions of a beautiful woman waiting for her prince, at the time in Eastern Europe it was seen as revolutionary, particularly as she actively contributes to the ending of the movie - not least by stealing and taming the prince’s horse.
Shot in both East Germany and Prague, the film premiered in East Berlin in 1973.
Much like how Dinner For One has become a television fixture in German-speaking Europe on New Year’s Eve, Drei Haselnüsse für Aschenbrödel is now synonymous with Christmas across much of the continent.
Despite being screened in both the United Kingdom and the United States - on the BBC and CBS respectively - the film has failed to gain a similar foothold in the English-speaking world.
Finally, for anyone who’s already met their Cinderella or their handsome prince, the castle which is the centrepiece of the film - the Moritzburg Castle near Dresden - can be rented for weddings and parties.
You’re recommended to get in early however, as you’ll be competing with an entire generation of children hoping that they can live happily ever after, just like their on-screen heroes.
This story was originally published on the Local Switzerland on December 22nd, 2019.