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For most of the last seven years an animated film entitled “Mavka, The Forest Song” has been in production and I’ve been waiting for it much of that time.  It is a film from an Ukrainian company and it would seem that the delay in releasing it has been due to the Coronavirus and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.  It was released on DVD in the United States on August 15th of this year, so I was able to get a copy.  The story of the film was inspired by Ukrainian folklore and a Fairy Drama in three acts entitled “Forest Song” written by Lesya Ukrainka in 1911 and first performed in Kyiv in 1918.  In the play’s transcript Mavka is  described as “a forest nymph,” but a footnote states that a Mavka is a “. . . sort of fairy being, whose origin is ascribed to a female infant which dies before receiving a Christian baptism.”  Mavky is the plural of the singular Mavka, so in folklore there seems to be many Mavky.

Lesya Ukrainka was born in Zhytomyr, Ukraine, approximately 100 miles to the west of Kyiv on February 5, 1871.  Ukraine was part of the Russian Empire at the time of her birth.  Her birth name was Larysa Petrivna Kosach-Kvitka.  She started writing poetry at age 8 - a poem entitled “Hope” - and by age 13 she had a poem entitled “Lily of the Valley” published.  She wrote the “Forest Song” in three days.  An English translation of the play can be found here: Lesia Ukrainka Forest Song.

According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Ukraine a Mavka is “A mythological female figure, tall, round-faced, long-haired, and sometimes naked.  The nymphs known by this term represented the souls of girls who had died unnatural deaths.  They were believed to live in groups in forests, mountain caves, or sheds, which they decorated with rugs.  They made thread of stolen flax and wove thin transparent cloth for making clothes for themselves.  They loved flowers, which they wore in their hair.  In the spring they planted flowers in the mountains, in which they enticed young men, whom they tickled to death.  On Pentecost (known as Mavka’s Easter) they held games, dances, and orgies.  A demon accompanied them on a flute or pipes.  They are depicted in literature, most notably in Lesia Ukrainka’s Lisova Pisnia (The Forest Song) and Mykhailo Kotsiubynaky’s zabutykh predkiv (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors).”  It is noted in this entry that Mavka, also known as niavka, navka, is from the Old Slavic nav “the dead.”

Other characters the play “Forest Song” written by Lesya Ukrainka include mythical beings such as Rusalka, a water nymph; the Lost Babes, water nixes; a Water Goblin, guardian spirit of the lake; and the Forest Elf, a woodland sprite.  Human characters include Uncle Lev, his nephew Lukash and Kilina, a young widow.  They are peasants.  Noted in the footnote to the play “Forest Song” is that a “‘Lost Babe is a fairy being conceived as coming from an unbaptized infant, the fruit of illicit love, after having been drowned by its desperate forsaken mother.”  The setting of the play is a spacious glade in the heart of a dense and hoary primeval forest dotted with willows and containing one very old oak.  Its plot is concerned with what happens when humans, those who do not understand the forest beings, come into this primeval setting.

While there are many similarities between the film “Mavka: The Forest Song” and Lesya Ukrainka’s “Forest Song” and although the film was clearly inspired by the play they are not the same story.  It is the case that  the basic theme of both deals with the problems that occur when humans who do not understand and respect the forest sprites come into the forest.  However, the film has a traditional “Happy Ever After” ending, but the original play does not.  Many of the same characters appear in both, but not always with the same spelling and not always with the same motivations.  The play also goes into more depth in regard to the various forest beings.  My main interest in this film is not so much the story, which is not that different from many recent animated fantasy films, but in the images.  The images of the fantastic characters and the scenery, which I found to be very nice.  Also, with the film’s connection to slavic mythology and in particular to that of Ukraine.  I became intrigued with this film after seeing this trailer  MAVKA. The Forest Song. Official Teaser 2 minutes.  However, the image of Mavka was somewhat changed for the actual film.

Lesya Ukrainka’s “Forest Song” is important in Ukraine culture and 75 years ago the story was made into a ballet.  Here is a 13 minute excerpt from the ballet performed by the National Ballet of Ukraine.  Excerpts from Forest Song | Selections from Nadiya Ukraine: The National Ballet of Ukraine The first two dancers  represent Mavka and Lukash (Lucas) and the red character in the second part is a Will-o’-the Wisp, a fire sprite, while the last part seems to represent the coming of winter.   


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