Movies »Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

valerie and her week of wondersHow do I describe Valerie and Her Week of Wonders? Well, it's part 70's art house, part vampire erotica, part surreal fairytale of sexual awakening, and all weird. Which is, of course, the allure. You're highly unlikely to see anything else quite like it, largely because it only bears a vague resemblance to a typical movie–it's more like a parade of entrancing images that are as easy to look at as they are difficult to make sense out of. This trailer really only hints at what you can expect.

Czech new wave director Jaromil Jires seems to be half pervert–he's got a huge soft spot for young ladies (including thirteen year old star Jaroslava Schallerova) barely contained within their gauzy lace frocks–and half aesthetic genius. No one can compose frames of nudity and nature, blood and wildflowers, lace curtains and breasts, and over-saturated fields of wheat traversed by nuns like this guy can–these are images that could be framed on a wall and this odd and controversial film is at times elevated to high surreal art. I can imagine W Magazine doing an editorial based on this film, if only anyone on staff was film nerdy enough to seek it out.

But what do all the pretty pictures add up to? Well, on one hand, not much more than an oddly paced, head scratching “it was all a dream?” type fantasy; but, on the other, it's hard to deny that there's some indescribable and creepily intriguing (like an ominous abstract painting) that you can't quite put your finger on–and you don't even want to, really, because it's just so profoundly weird that it's pretty much impenetrable to analysis.

Aside from the visuals, the plot too (as much of it as you can piece together), has some neat elements. The cast of characters is pretty wild, there's The Weasel, the town's ghostly and David Lynchian eerie vampire master; Eagle his frequently tortured (both physically and emotionally) son with incestuous longings for Valerie; Granny, who is willing to trade her granddaughter for eternal youth and is always dressed amazingly in white stiff collared dresses, black net fingerless gloves, black jodhopers, and severe complex up-dos; and, of course, there's Valerie, the nubile teen who imagines all this nonsense (which includes a burning at the stakes and a chicken plague) with the aide of a pair of magical earrings.

We found it mind blowing that this oddity was actually based on a novel (written in 1935 by Vitezslav Nezval) and can't begin to imagine how it could work on the written page. Long lost, the film was finally released by Facets Video in 2004. It has been an inspiration for writer Angela Carter (The Company of Wolves) and its re-release has inspired a new group of artists: a team of Philadelphian musicians called The Valerie Project who play along to the cult classic film at museums and film festivals.

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Posted on July 28, 2008

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