VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS
Czech surrealism from the seventies.
Beautifully filmed, affectionately macabre and totally unique, it’s precisely
the type of film They Just Don’t Make Anymore.
Director Jaromil Jires was one of the guiding lights of the
Czech cinematic New Wave
of the sixties. This movement produced startlingly irreverent,
politically subversive films like THE PARTY AND THE GUESTS (O SLAVNOSTI A
HOSTECH; 1966), THE FIREMEN’S BALL (HORI, MA PANEKO; 1967), DAISIES (SEDMIKRASKY;
1966) and Jires’ own THE JOKE (ZERT; 1969), all of which were banned for
countless years—in some cases forever—by the Czech government. Compared to the
above films, Jires’ VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (VALERIE A TYDEN DIVU; 1970)
seems, despite its surreal veneer, downright traditional. It hasn’t been banned
anywhere, to my knowledge. Perhaps this film, a curious melding of ALICE IN
WONDERLAND and NOSFERATU, was Jires’ idea of “lighter” fare after the previous
decade’s spate of politically charged cinema.
The pubescent Valerie is awakened one day by a pasty-faced, Nosferatu-like
vampire who steals her earrings (which, we later learn, are imbued with magical
powers). She pursues him, but he manages to vanish into a crowd. She spots the
vampire again later, feebly disguised behind a mouse-head mask, and points him
out to her (alarmingly pale) grandmother. As it turns out, the earring thief
has vampirized Valerie’s grannie, along with much of the town, and furthermore
has set up shop in the dark, cobwebby basement of Valerie’s house!
Matters aren’t helped by the presence of a lecherous priest with an eye for
Valerie, but things really come to a head when Val’s young, pretty “aunt” moves
in and tries to take Valerie out of the picture. The aunt is in fact Val’s
vampirized grandmother looking to further the head vamp’s nefarious aims.
Luckily Valerie’s one true love, a dashing young man, is there to help her
escape her grandmother’s clutches and defeat the vampires, which inspires a mass
celebration among the townspeople, ending with them all surrounding Valerie as
she climbs into an outdoor bed and goes to sleep.
VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS gains much of its power from the fact that
it is one of the screen’s only successful attempts at capturing the texture of a
dream. The constantly shifting fairy tale landscapes, the fragmented yet
curiously streamlined narrative and the unpredictable interplay of reality and
fantasy are all masterfully orchestrated by Jaromil Jires, working with
gorgeously desaturated photography; the film is every bit as authentically
dreamlike—and eerily beautiful—in its own way as ERASERHEAD.
The subject matter, a girl’s budding sexuality, is sensitively handled with
a refreshing lack of salaciousness (AMERICAN PIE this is not). There are some
troubling bits, such as a scene in which the youthful Valerie wakes up in a bed
beside a much older woman—while we’re shown nothing untoward, the all-too-clear
implication is that the two did far more than sleep! In any event, Jires’
14-year-old star Jaroslava Schallerova definitely ranks among the most radiantly
beautiful child actors ever to grace the silver screen; her face provides one of
the most compelling sights in this uniquely hallucinatory, stunningly poetic,
deeply enthralling piece of cinema.
VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (VALERIE A
Filmove Studio Barrandov
Director: Jaromil Jires
Screenplay: Jaromil Jires, Ester Krumbachova
(Based on a novel by Vitezslav Nezval)
Cinematography: Jan Curik
Editor: Josef Valusiak
Cast: Jaroslava Schallerova, Josef Abrham, Helena Anyzova, Karel Engel, Jan
Klusak, Petr Kopriva, Jirina Machalicka, Jiri Prymek, Martin Wielgus