Originally posted on the MA Character animation course blog, published October 14th 2015.
To narrow the story of Jenufa down into something that could fit into three minutes was not easy.
It’s really no way to tell it in a short easy way, but in general it’s about Jenufa who is pregnant, but not married. The opera starts up with her, her grandmother and her cousin Laca who is waiting for Jenufa’s lover Steva to come back from the army. Steva is the village’s charmer and loved by everyone, he is the one to inherit the mill and Laca’s half brother. Laca hates Steva because he is everyone’s favourite and that Jenufa loves him, because Laca loves Jenufa Steva doesn’t really care about Jenufa, but she is the prettiest girl in town and he wants her for that.
When Steva comes back he is drunk and loud, flirting with other girls and makes Jenufa embarassed and unhappy. Jenufa’s stepmother then tells Steva that he need to be sober for a year in order to be allowed to marry Jenufa, Steva doesn’t care. When Laca later tells Jenufa that Steva is only with her because of her looks she defends her lover and in rage Laca slashes her face with a knife knowing that Steva is not going to care about her now that she has lost her beauty.
When Jenufa has the child the stepmother hides her away from the villagers while she tries to pressure Steva to take responsibility, but he refuses because she is no longer beautiful. The stepmother then ask Laca who is willing to marry Jenufa, but refuses when he hears about the child. The stepmother then lies and says that the child is dead to make Laca change his mind, which he does. Then the stepmother takes the child while Jenufa sleeps and kills it. When Jenufa wakes up the stepmother tells her that she has been sleeping for three days and that the child has dies. Jenufa as heartbroken, but agrees to marry Laca to be able to return to the village. The stepmother feels guilt, but tries to convince herself that she is doing the right thing.
When Jenufa and Laca is getting married the body of the child is discovered and the villagers thinks Jenufa killed it as she is recognizes it. They want to execute her, but then the stepmother confesses and reveal that Steva didn’t want to take responsibility, Jenufa is shocked, but before the stepmother is led away she forgives her. With the stepmother gone and justice served, Jenufa and Laca get married.
My biggest problem with this story was to find a character to really sympathize with since they where all acting to selfishly. Even Jenufa who is denied to marry the one she loves and loses her child is acting so stupid that I got annoyed. I felt that if the whole village was taken by an avalanche in the last act and everyone died, I wouldn’t really care!
But, after going back an forth between which character’s point of view to tell this story from I finally ended up with the stepmother. Mostly because she is the opera’s bad guy and does some pretty gruesome things. I guess one would almost expect it, at least I did, because she is a stepmother. Stepmothers in stories hate their stepchildren, tries to end their happiness and is plain evil.
But then I read the story and saw the opera and realised that it’s not the case here. The stepmother actually loves Jenufa and wants the best for her, but driven by religious beliefs and fear of the other villagers she makes some horrible decisions based on good intentions.
So my story ended up being about the relationship between Jenufa and her stepmother.