[Film Review] Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders poster

English Title: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Original Title: Valerie a týden divu
Year: 1970
Country: Czechoslovakia
Language: Czech
Genre: Adventure, Fantasy
Director: Jaromil Jires
Jaromil Jires
Ester Krumbachová
Jirí Musil
based on the novel of Vítezslav Nezval
Jan Klusák
Lubos Fiser
Cinematography: Jan Curík
Jaroslava Schallerová
Helena Anýzová
Petr Kopriva
Jirí Prýmek
Jan Klusák
Alena Stojáková
Rating: 6.9/10

A pathfinder of Czechslovak NEW WAVE in the 60s, Czech filmmaker Jaromil Jires (1935-2001) kick-started the movement with his feature debut THE CRY (1963), and his third feature VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS, is probably his most well-known work, an adaptation from avant-garde writer Vítězslav Nezval’s eponymous surrealistic novel, about a 13-year-old girl Valerie’s (Schallerová, an ethereal nymph borne out of her screen debut) phantasmagorical experience happening around her after she has had her very first menstruation.

Sandwiched between Vera Chytilova’s DAISIES (1966) and Juraj Herz’s MORGIANA (1972), Jires’ concoction of fantasy and horror snappily juggles with the former’s experimental whimsy and the latter’s gothic trope. A bountiful of motifs are cooked together in this mash-up from scene to scene within its terse 73-minutes running time: sexual awakening, Electra complex, virgin worship, wedding and funeral, clergyman’s unbridled carnal lust, lesbianism, sibling incest, witch-hunt, vampirism, shapeshifter and black magic.

An overload of dreamlike eeriness polished by Jan Klusák and Lubos Fiser’s quaintly pastoral soundtrack, what Valerie sees and what she dreams merge into the same universe. Is Constable (Prýmek, a Death impersonation grafted on his gargoyle physiognomy), the masked priest, her birth father or just a weasel monster? Is Orlik (Kopriva), the young thief falls for her, a passing actor or her own brother? Is her grandmother (Anýzová, under heavy cosmetics to portray three different roles, a terrorising presence notwithstanding), a blood-thirsty vampire or a past lover of Constable, which would further complicate the story into the realm of absurdism and controversy.

Astounded by the otherworldliness of its visualisation, confounded by the narrative’s incredulous successions of happenings, viewers who expect instantaneous pizzazz and outré encounter will certainly adore its innovative execution, meanwhile those who expect a sober narrative with haunting effects will find the film largely quixotic within its own capacity.

Oscar 1970 Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

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