VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS
(Valerie a Tden Divu)
The film was adapted from Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1945) by Czech surrealist writer Vitezslav Nezval, which has a modest reputation as a classic in its own country, although not so much in English language. The film adaptation was conducted by Jaromil Jires, a director of controversy during the 1960s with works like The Cry (1964) and in particular The Joke (1969), which caused upset with its satirical jibes at the then-ruling Czech Communist Party. Jaromil Jires worked regularly as a director until his death in 2001, although most of his films did not screen outside of the Czechoslovakia/the Czech Republic. He made two other ventures into genre cinema with A Big Plate of Malikov (1977) in which a UFO visits a rural Czech village and Double Role (1999) in which the brains of an old woman and a young street kid are surgically swapped.
Much of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders sits on the edge of a child-like innocence a virginal girls dream of the world around her, of rituals of Catholic Confirmation, with her dressed in white and everything shot with a misty gauzed-out lens. In the films constantly drifting and hazily surreal narrative, Jaromil Jires leaves the film as one that is half dream, half real with the lines in between constantly being blurred. It is a world that seems to loom with threat, particularly of a suggested sexual nature. There are male figures that are constantly seeming something else a man in an animal mask in the marketplace; the priest who becomes an albinoid figure in a black hood and tries to molest Jaroslava Schallerova; the character that blurs between being a vampire and it later appears may be Valeries father or else a priest who has come to seduce her mother. Elsewhere there is the character of a local woman (Alena Stojakova) who gets married and this rapidly turns into a nightmare. Valerie spends much of her time with Ortik or Eagle (Petr Kopriva) who is said to be her brother but the relationship looks to us more like it is one of girlfriend and boyfriend. The film constantly hovers on the verge of a girlish innocence where the fear of blooming sexual maturity represents a dark threat that keeps intruding. There is no particular plot to the film it is one of those art films where the shifting nature of the plot is an affect in itself. Jaroslava Schallerova has an extraordinary beauty and perfectly embodies the quality of a girl who sits on the cusp of being a woman.
Vitezslav Nezval intended his book as a homage to the imagery of 19th Century Gothic horror and similarly the film plays with horror imagery the vampire father (Jiri Prymek) resembles Max Schreck in Nosferatu (1922), for instance. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders has been compared to the adaptation of Angela Carters The Company of Wolves (1984), which similarly features the dark fantasies/fears of male sexuality being had by a young girl sitting on the edge of sexual maturity and swam between dream and reality on multiple levels. The other film I kept being reminded of was Philip Ridleys The Reflecting Skin (1990) and its child-like take on the American Midwest and its surreal swim between childs literalistic interpretation of metaphor and adult things not fully understood.