VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970) is a visual stunner—enchanting, perplexing, and totally entertaining all at the same time.
The film is formally categorized in the fantasy/horror genre but that seems ill-fitting and misleading. Fantasy implies that Valerie is consciously involved in the goings-on; and horror, well, that means scary.
The film is neither. It is, quite simply, a dream–and probably the most pure reflection of a dream in cinema that I’ve ever seen.
By New Wave Czech filmmaker Jaromil Jires, based on a 1935 novel by Vitezslav Nezval, VALERIE is one of those movies that you just surrender to, like you surrender to your dreams. You try to make sense of the narrative, but it’s really not important or even possible. What matters is the mystery and metaphor.
I watched this with friends (and members of the Bleeping Ravenswood Manor Film Society, which is headed up by fellow Home Projectionist blogger John Connors). Both during and after the film, we made periodic attempts to try to make sense of the narrative, but we would just sort of shrug and give up. It was reminiscent of when you try to tell an entire dream to a friend, and you end up saying something along the lines of , “And then I looked up and there was this dead priest hanging out of the window, but then we were suddenly making love in the chicken coop, but I had to leave to help my brother who was tied down in these river rapids,” and your friend listens and nods because you’re telling him about a dream and that’s how dreams go.
The role of young Valerie is played with perfection by a Jaroslava Schallerova. As in a dream, she is present in the story, but at the same time, she is not present and moves through the events as a spectator.
At the opening of her story, Valerie’s magical earrings are stolen (her innocence?), and we also discover that Valerie has had her first menstrual period, an event immortalized by simple drops of blood on a small white flower. Valerie confides what has happened to her stern, uptight grannie.
And that’s when all the “wonders” — both beautiful and diabolical — start to happen.
With Valerie’s induction into this mysterious world of womanhood, her young girl subsconscious swarms with images and traditions that feature the letting of blood — from vampires, of course, to religious ceremonies, hunting, butchering, and losing one’s virginity.
And then there are so many sexual identity questions that arise about who is who and what is what. In this dream, shapeshifting is a matter of course. Grannie goes vampire to regain her youth and fulfill her repressed sexual desires. And Eagle — her brother/her lover! her brother/her lover! — needs her to rescue him from his bondage encounters while at the same time he becomes Valerie’s rescuer as well.
In and around Valerie’s journey, there are shirtless dancing boys, bare-breasted and writhing wenches, happy acrobats and nuns, a lesbian encounter with a newlywed, some fun self-flagellation, lots of lascivious fruit eating, and a jumble of other erotic scenarios, each one gorgeously composed and shot, especially with the compelling, strategic use of overhead angles.
But through it all, Valerie remains unscathed, even from the threats of being raped by a pedophile priest and being burned at the stake as a witch, because she is protected by her magical “pearl” and later, her recovered magical earrings that somehow end up on the corpse of a weasel who is her father but not her father but whatever….it’s a dream.
What is incredibly interesting to me is that this film worked as a home theater event. It is spellbinding, but also lends itself to a few wisecracks and comments here and there that create the kind of camarderie that happens when a good film watching “shared experience” goes on in the living room.
In an unplanned late-night add-on selected by John Connors, we watched NIGHT MONSTER (1942), featuring Bela Lugosi in a hang-around role as the shifty-eyed butler. Just by serendipity, the film opens with a housekeeper cleaning blood off a staircase. What an odd coincidence, having just seen VALERIE open with the image of blood. But the blood in this film isn’t the stuff of a young girl’s first period. It turns out to be some inexplicable bleeding from the stumps of a diabolical amputee who has learned to spiritually conjure up legs. This film features a lot of swirling fog, off-camera screams, way too many murders, and a swami with a skeleton friend.