Monday, October 22, 2007

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders – review

Director: Jaromil Jires

Release Date: 1970

Contains spoilers

This is, without a doubt, one of the strangest vampire films you are likely to come across. A beautifully shot film that tracks a young girl’s sexual awakening through the lens of of a dream and fairytales. The film has been likened to the company of wolves in intent, but it is more dreamlike. To liken it to another vampire movie, one can only think of Lemora: A Child’s Tale of the Supernatural. It is also, morally, quite disturbing – something I’ll look at in detail later.

The film is almost non-linear it is so surreal, and much of the story is open to being untrue. Statements are deliberately contradicted within the film. The film begins with views of Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) seen in various activities. We then see a young man, Eagle, with a torch. He climbs through a window and take the earrings Valerie wears, whilst she sleeps. She runs out and sees a vampire, she shouts weasel. We see the earrings returned and an apology issued. Eagle climbs into a loft and addresses the constable – who is also weasel the vampire – and tells him he lost the earrings.

We see Valerie walking. Blood drops onto a daisy, which she picks getting blood on her finger. She takes it to her room, which like the dress she wears is virginal white. We cut to views of a lake, seen through Valerie’s eyes, four women cavort in the lake – playing but also kissing. Valerie puts her hand to her chest as she watches, possibly wondering at her lack of breasts.

Having tea with her grandmother (Helena Anýzová) she is excited about the performers who are due in town. Her grandmother says that she should be more interested in the missionaries due, one will be staying with them. Valerie explains that she is no longer a child, the episode with the daisy represented the start of her first period. Grandmother suggests she gets rid of the earrings, they were her mother’s, bought before she went to the convent. Valerie’s father was a Bishop. A parade passes the house, it is a wedding parade. In the crowd is the vampire.

I said the film was morally disturbing and I think we should look at that. This is a sexual awakening film, much like Lemora – though unlike the other film I don’t think this made it to a Vatican banned list. Strange that, as this is more suggestive in what occurs to Valerie. The priest, who stays, tries to rape her, is scared off when she appears to die, hangs himself but survives and then burns Valerie at the stake – a fate she escapes because of the magical pearls in the earrings. He states she is a witch and tried to seduce him – though she did nothing.

The farmer’s wife is a victim of vampirism. This is cured by spending the night with Valerie and there is a strong hint that they became lovers. This represents sexual confusion, probably tied to the scene at the lake as the girls there were clearly friends and the comment is made between Valerie and the farmer’s wife about finding a friend.

Eagle makes overtures towards Valerie and yet it is stated that he is her brother. Though Valerie refuses him there is evidence that there is mutual attraction. All this is somewhat more in your face than Lemora and this is where the morality comes into it. Although it is not actually explicit, Schallerová was only thirteen when the film was shot. What saves the film is the fact that it was clearly meant to be allegorical of the confusions a person goes through at puberty and the fact that it isn’t actually exploitative, despite some mild nudity, nothing in the film actually titillates.

The vampirism represents much. The duplicity of men, the actual menstruation and, mainly, sexual jealousy. The Grandmother betrays Valerie in order to become a vampire and regain her youth. Though Valerie is aware of who she is, she poses as Elsa – stating she is a second cousin. As Elsa she tries to seduce Eagle, showing another incestuous aspect to the film. Through this medium the film also displays the three ages of womanhood with Elsa representing the maiden, Valerie’s mother (who appears later in the film) representing motherhood and the grandmother representing the crone – all three roles are played by Anýzová.

The vampires have many faces. The Weasel can appear as a young man at times, he also hides behind a mask. He plays the role of a bishop and claims he is actually Valerie’s father. He is actually changed into a weasel when Valerie slips the earrings into his wine.

The quality of the print on the redemption DVD is poor indeed and the film suffers from some awful cuts. The subtitling is substandard in that some dialogue is simply not subtitled. This is a strange one to review, as I say the use of such a young actress in the situations is morally disturbing, more so than if an older actress had played a younger girl. Yet all that happens is within Valerie’s own mind – it is representative of sexual confusion. It is also, allegedly, a political allegory about the situation in Czechoslovakia at the time – though I cannot pretend to understand that symbolism.

Yet, despite the disturbing aspects this is a beautifully shot fairytale, let down simply by the quality of the transfer. It is dreamlike but offers little substantial narrative, somehow it doesn’t need to. 6 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.


Anonymous said...

A remastered version is available via amazon,with a much improved cover by the way!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for that

Anonymous said...

I am big fan of this movie partly cause as I started to watch it - it also reminded me of The Company of Wolves, which is my favourite werewolf movie.

I saw this at the Brisbane International Film Fest about 5 years ago - one of the sub-programs was czech filmmakers so they included this and I was actually invited by a friend who was going cause he knew my vampire fascination. The footage was the original print and was seperated in about 4-5 reels and it was fantastic.

The dream-like quality is evidently present, like Alice in VampireLand. I agree with you Taliesin about the controversial nature in regards to Valerie but I think that was done more to show the corruption of the characters such as the priest and the grandmother and how we supposedly lose our child-like 'innocence' as we mature.

I rushed straight home and ordered the dvd from Amazon. The soundtrack is fantastic so is the European setting. After the fact I actually read the novel the movie is based on by Vítězslav Nezval and it actually expands on the story and explains a few more things such as the mysterious blonde girl who keeps appearing to Valerie in the movie, the motives of the grand-mother and Eagle's connection to The Weasel.

The way vampires are done in this is great - even though when the Grandmother became a vampire and young again it reminded me of the vampire chronicles by Anne Rice but both the book and movie pre-date that. Speaking of which alot of hammer films etc remind me of Interview With the Vampire, such as Captain Kronos and the Fearless Vampire killers - esp who the older and younger vampire wears red and blue velvet respectively like Marius and Lestat do and they are both blonde but I digress.

This film could have easily tipped from Dream-like to Nightmarish but it holds that precarious balance as a metaphor for the confusion of adolescence and the wisening of children to the 'evils' and selfishness of grownups.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers for the comment Gabriel. I do want to see this restored and well subtitled.

If you haven't, do check out Lemora, as mentioned in the review

Anonymous said...

I own Lemora, it's alright but I agree with another review of times past that it almost seems like a Vampyric adaptation of a Lovecraft Story. I didn't think it was nearly as good as Valerie. It wasn't that good that I've been tempted to put it in my player for a second viewing as I have others in my vampire collection...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Gabriel, I can't deny the lovecraftian ovetones of Lemora - n bad thing in my book.

It is a case, I expect, of each to9 their own. Irate Valerie but love Lemora.

Anonymous said...

I have it here in my collection LEMORA so I might give it another watch and get back to you on its own page. i do remember it being haunting - and the end part with her and teacher or however it was - was a tad creepy...

Do you like Poe? someone has done an adaptation of Ligeia and the Conqueror worm called "Edgar Allen Poe's Ligeia" - its not vampyric in a sense of blood-drinking but she does steal souls to try to become immortal so its similar, and some of Poe's stories did verge on the vampiric - just like "Tale of A Vampire" (a movie that I love but don't have a copy of) with Julian Sands, which was based on the poem: Annabel Lee.

You'll find the trailer and synopsis on that site - hope you like it....its out sometime this year.

p.s - sorry the [url] [/url] tags wouldnt work with the link??

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I do like Poe... and now you have mentioned it I am going to have to dig tale of a vampire out and review it at some point as well!

Anonymous said...

Well you're a bit mean owning that film as I don't. It was a tad slow in pace but the storyline and atmos was brilliant and it was quite menacing and dark and morbid - just like Poe's work was...

Julian was great as Alex and I love how the vampire Edgar manipulated the story and how jealous and menacing he was. The actor who played him was the psychologist from the 2nd Hellraiser movie "Hellbound". He is good at playing menacing characters with moral ambiguity :p

I thought the flashback scenes when Alex first meets Virgina are great. I'm a big fan of Poe, one of my favourite bands Sopor Aeternus and the Ensemble of Shadows has some songs from Poe's poems, The Sleeper, Conqueror Worm, Alone: The Innocence of Devils etc...

I guess you could blame the director of TOAV for the zzzzzzzz

Anonymous said...

I was able to get my hands on a copy of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders Official Soundtrack and I'm totally f-ing stoked cause I love the music from that movie and as you know its one of my fave vampire movies besides VJ. Now only if I can get my hands on The Company of Wolves Soundtrack it'll make my year.

Furthermore I watched Lemora, The Company of Wolves and Valerie and Her Week Of Wonders as a marathon last night - so I'll post my comments on Lemora soon - I enjoyed it the second time around partly cause I knew what to expect.

Anonymous said...

well it looks like my year has been made because I got my hands on the Company of Wolves soundtrack - its awesome :p

Taliesin_ttlg said...

custom term papers left a comment today that said "a much improved cover by the way" - I deleted it as the poster's name linked to an essay cheat site.

Please do not post comments on my blog for the sake of advertising a product, especially one that is possibly illegal and morally reprehensible.