Polina (Alina Korol) works at her father’s fish shop. She sleeps poorly worrying about her family, and when an eccentric woman claims to be selling a tea to cure insomnia she buys some, half curious and half desperate. As in all classic fairy tales, drinking the tea transports Polina to a new dimension – one where she must complete a series of tasks to determine if she has what it takes to become a Tzarevna, or tsar’s daughter. Lineage is not important for the folk figure, who must embody grace, beauty, and wisdom under increasing pressure – and competition from the other Tzarevnas-to-be.

Tzarevna Scaling finds its feet in this mythological space: it knows every rule of fairy tales and seeps itself in Russian folkloric imagery. Uldus Bakhtiozina not only directs but also writes, edits, and designs costume and production for her debut feature. Her combination of traditional iconography with modernist, quasi-steampunk touches emphasises the enduring recognisability and shape-shifting abilities of these figures. The narrative is placed in a puzzle box that includes past, present, and future, and Polina’s guide through this realm – clad in a lavish traditional headdress and thigh-high leather boots – makes a point to demonstrate how traditional ritual, Soviet routines, and modern pageantry collide. The dreamlike yet overwhelmingly tactile world unfolds in turns sinister and magical.

Korol’s performance is somewhat lost amidst the pageantry, but when she is able to take the screen with no distractions she imbues Polina with an inner calm and self-belief. One monologue affirming her faith in her innate, yet ordinary, ability and beauty is poignantly delivered, but she is ultimately the perfect cipher for a woman out of myth.

Tzarevna Scaling may lose its heart in its conceit but it is faultless in ambition, design, and navigation through traditional Russian imagery and stories.



CAST: Alina Korol, Viktoria Lisovskaya, Valentina Yasen, Aleksandra Kysotskaya, Albina Berens, Seraphima Soloviova, Xenia Popova-Pendereckaya, Uldus Bakhtiozina, Adelia Severinova, Maria Pavlova

DIRECTOR: Uldus Bakhtiozina

WRITER: Uldus Bakhtiozina

SYNOPSIS: After drinking a special tea, a fishmonger’s daughter wakes up in a competition to become the next Tzareva – tzar’s daughter – out of Russian folklore.