More than most European film movements of the 1960s, I have long been an admirer of the films of the Czech New Wave and have even appreciated much of the work of some of the movement’s directors who made the jump to Hollywood, such as Milos Foreman and Ivan Passer. I am also very happy to write that over the last few years, there has been a growing appreciation for the Czech New Wave, inspired by the re-release of Věra Chytilová’s 1966 film, “Daisies,” the story of two teenage girls named Marie who enjoy pulling the odd prank. “Daisies” is an absurdist dark comedy that excels in the surreal and is completely successful in keeping you off kilter for its short, 78-minute length.
Similarly short in length but immensely visually dazzling, is the 1970 fairytale feature by Czech New Wave auteur, Jaromil Jires, “Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders.” Drawing inspiration from the likes of 1960s Buñuel and Fellini, director Jires ties together this loose narrative of the fantastical and erotic daydreams of our title character Valerie, joyously played by the luminously gorgeous, Jaroslava Schallerova. Our demented fairytale begins with the virginal Valerie, who lives with her grandmother, having her earrings stolen in the middle of the night by a man who covers his face with a weasel’s mask. She encounters the man who stole her earrings the next day who then gives the earrings back to her.
Valerie then receives a letter informing her of a church service for all of the town’s virgins. She attends and after the service, Valerie meets Eagle, who tells her that he was the one who had stolen her earrings the night before and that the man who she keeps seeing in her yard is in fact, a monster. Eagle then gives her a pearl, which should protect her from evil. Valerie goes home to the comfort of her beautiful grandmother, but I must mention that her grandmother occasionally is a vampire, and that her grandma’s ex lover is Gracian, the local Catholic priest who she flogs herself in front of in order to give him sexual gratification. When Valerie encounters Gracian, he of course sexually assaults her and she uses her pearl to force our clergyman’s suicide. In turn, Valerie is then accused of witchcraft.
While writing this summation of the story, it boggles my mind as to why I so riveted for the entirety of the film as the rapid blending of genre is downright staggering, from fairy tale to softcore porn to horror film to political satire? I’ll leave behind the likes of Fellini and Buñuel as the work that Jires’ film eventually reminds me the most of, I dare to say, is Takeshi Miike’s virginal fantasy freak out film, “Gozu.” My favorite of Miike’s oeuvre, “Gozu” follows a young yakuza who has never known a woman, accidentally kills his boss, and makes the mistake of spending the weekend hiding out in motel where he encounters an elderly woman who cannot stop lactating, a man with a cow head who drools semen, and a beautiful woman with whom his interaction with ends horrifically and hilariously on the other side of vagina dentata. Both films play on the dreamlike fears that exist in the mind of the virgin as the moment of sexual congress is becoming an ever-increasing reality, but unlike Mr. Miike’s film, which spirals more and more out of control until its final frame, making the dream logic it uses something of an afterthought, “Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders” blissfully lands in reality at the end where Valerie emerges triumphantly as a woman.
Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders Trailer
Created during the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia when the national film industry was heavily censored and when the country was rapidly becoming more industrialized, Jires’ film excels during those beautiful moments of virginal curiosity in the midst of it’s mostly bucolic settings as if the film industry seemed to be channeling the desire of the Czech people yearning for a return to a mostly pastoral existence. Furthermore, the consistent jabs at the clergy’s duality of morals plays as much into the sexual repression we see in Valerie’s daydreams as it serves an indictment of the regime of the time.
Throughout it all, Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders” is an underrated and stunning work that demands your constant attention not only for its dizzying almost cult-like blending of genre, but for its consistent promise of a pastoral fantasy world that is sometimes horrific but always dazzling.