Thursday, July 18, 2013

Dream Factory: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Directed by Jaromil Jires
Original release date: Barrandov Studios 1970 (Czechoslovakia)
US theatrical release: Janus Films 1974
US DVD release: Facets 2004
Streaming: Hulu

Summary from Seen That: "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." 

Review: Since the above summary is especially vague, I'll do my best to do a short one myself.  

Valerie lives alone with her grandmother.  A troupe of actors has just arrived in her village, as has a missionary returning from Africa.  A hooded figure among the performers takes an interest in Valerie, though she learns he is a vampire.  A bespectacled youth named Eagle serves as her protector (along with a magic pair of earrings), as Valerie navigates the tricky path between childhood and adolescence, innocence and sexual awakening.

This film was recently available for free viewing on Hulu as part of their 101 Days of Criterion festival.  It sounded quirky, and I remember having read about it somewhere, so I decided to watch it.  And it delivered all the weirdness one could want.  

The film has a very surreal, dreamlike quality to it.  One is never quite sure what is real and what is imagined, and the characters frequently change their stories.  By the end of the film, the viewer (and Valerie) has been told at least three different iterations of Eagle's origin.  I did think the music used to alert viewers to certain repeating events became a bit gimmicky toward the end, but that was my only real complaint.

The actors here aren't professionals, as this film is part of the Czech New Wave of the late 60's/early 70's.  The leads weren't particularly emotive, but I may have just felt that way because tone doesn't always translate.  The missionary also had a really comic bedroom scene that amused me, though I don't know that it was intentional.

But what really stood out was the imagery.  This film is riddled with sexual imagery, from the obvious (a woman self-stimulating on a tree) to the more subtle (Valerie's entirely white bedroom).  I'm sure someone has to have analyzed every image by now, so I won't, but I think that's where this film really excelled.

I recently learned that this was based on a Czech novel by Vitezslav Nezval, which was only translated into English within the last decade.  I think I will have to read it for a comparison.

I feel like fans of Svankmajer would enjoy this the most.  But anyone with a penchant for the bizarre or the surreal should find something to enjoy.

Note: I scoured YouTube for a trailer, but I could only find fan-made ones.  Sorry.

No comments:

Post a Comment