Inspired by fairy-tales such as Alice in Wonderland and Little Red-Riding Hood, "Valerie and her Week of Wonders" is a surreal tale in which love, fear, sex and religion merge into one fantastic world.
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A thief awakens Valerie, just 13, taking earrings left to her by her mother. By morning, the earrings have been returned, Valerie's first period has begun, and a troupe and a missionary have arrived in her Medieval town. The thief is Orick; he reports to a cloaked constable who may also be the missionary. Attention to sexuality is everywhere: Valerie's grandmother's puritanical nature, the missionary's sermon to the town's virgins, the parish priest's attempt to seduce Valerie, and lusty adults at play. Valerie's nascent sexuality puts her in great danger. Can she navigate the passage from innocence to experience, a route teaming with vampires, a murderer, and an obscure family tree? Written by
VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (Jaromil Jires, 1970) ***1/2
An aimless but fascinating surreal fantasy a sort of adult-oriented version of 'Alice In Wonderland' with a distinctly Eastern European flavor VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS was a revelation for me, and I am very glad I went the extra mile to acquire a copy of it on VHS.
The narrative makes little sense and, like I said, it does not lead to anywhere in particular, but the film's trump card is the incredible (and often poetic) beauty of its images. The film ostensibly deals with the sexual awakening of a teenage girl, though the way director Jaromil Jires goes about this is extremely complex yet effortlessly captivating, and very enjoyable to boot. It takes in a variety of dazzling psycho-sexual concepts drawn from religion and mythological folklore which come off as both inextricably modern and deeply provocative still.
The film features a number of sexual perversions throughout, which is pretty amazing when considering that the lead actress was only 13 years old at the time (though nothing too explicit is ever shown): she is involved in lesbianism, incestuous/Oedipal familial relationships, and is even subjected to an attempted rape by a young priest apart from being shown in various states of undress! In this way, it would seem to cater to the tastes of practically every broad-minded film-goer one can think of (be it art-house, horror or erotica), though it is arguable how well-known this film really is which is a pity.
The few elements we find here of the traditional horror film are worth expanding upon, however: we get a number of vampires (the leading member bears an unmistakable resemblance to the Max Schreck of NOSFERATU ) who periodically revert to their formerly more human and youthful selves, if only to further disorientate Valerie and ensnare her in their volatile and greedy schemes. Finally we 'witness' Valerie being burned alive at the stake (as a witch), a punishment instigated by the same priest who had earlier seduced her. Still, she manages to emerge unscathed from her every crisis, thanks to a special talisman (in the shape of a pair of earrings) and the help of her goofy but devoted brother/lover, who goes by the name of Eagle!
Jaroslava Schallerova, who plays Valerie, is lovely and utterly charming throughout, striking a perfect balance between wide-eyed innocence and a curious sexual urge. Photography, sets, costumes and make-up are all wonderful (if obviously done on a low budget) - and the accompanying choral music is beautiful indeed, almost ethereal.
The by-now deleted Redemption PAL tape presented the film in a full-screen format (I'm not sure if this is the correct ratio or not); the print was far from pristine but perfectly acceptable for an obscure item such as this. I wonder who owns the U.S. rights, as I would love to see it get a much-deserved renaissance on DVD.
I cannot say whether VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS was actually a one-off for this Czech film-maker, as I know very little about his other work. The only Jaromil Jires film available anywhere at the moment is THE JOKE (1969), by way of a reportedly substandard edition from Facets Video on VHS and DVD.
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