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Sometimes a wild imagination can get a young filmmaker into trouble. For Anna Melikyan it seems to be her magic elixir.

With “Rusalka” (Mermaid), the 32-year-old helmer shows off an astonishing combination of creative ingenuity and technical expertise. Loosely based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fable “The Little Mermaid” but set in modern-day Russia, pic tells the story of a girl named Alisa who is both blessed and cursed with a special gift: She has the power to make wishes come true.

“Mermaid” does what every great fairy tale should do: transport its audience to another place. As Alisa journeys from the run-down seaside community of her childhood to Moscow, every frame seems to pulsate with relentless visual inventiveness and a mischievous comic tone. “Humor is my main instrument,” Melikyan says. “I think that to understand a subject completely, you should find something funny about it.”

Born in Azerbaijan and raised in Armenia, Melikyan moved to Moscow to attend film school. After graduating, she honed her skills directing fiction and nonfiction television before making her first feature, “Mars,” in 2004.

She found the inspiration for “Mermaid” in the form of actress Masha Shalaeva, whom she’d known since college. “All these years, I’ve wanted to make a movie with her in the lead, but there wasn’t a good story,” Melikyan explains. “And suddenly it came to me — ‘Mermaid’ would be for Masha. I could only see her in this role. The script was very easy to write, because I wasn’t thinking about an abstract image, but a specific person — her face, voice and attitude.”

“Mermaid” makes its international premiere in Sundance’s World Cinema Dramatic Competition program.

“The uniqueness of Anna as a filmmaker is that her films are without national boundaries,” says “Mermaid” producer Ruben Dishdishyan. “(‘Mermaid’) is understandable and accessible to any human being in any part of our planet.”

VITAL STATS
AGE:
32
PROVENANCE: Baku, Azerbaijan
INSPIRED BY: “Italian films, especially neorealism, but Fellini remains my favorite film director.”
REPS: Film’s sales agent is Central Partnership