Video Reviews
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
by Jaromil Jires
Facets Video (1970)
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
8 / 10
I was inspired to check out Valerie and Her Week of Wonders after hearing of the recent release of the film's soundtrack by the label Finders Keepers, who put out last year's Selda reissue, an obscure Turkish psych protest album that I love rather obsessively. Valerie, on the surface, is a strangely unfrightening horror film, with elements of Euro soft core porn, portraying a beautiful young woman plagued by vampires on the night of her first menstruation. The film is set in a deeply Catholic Czech village at the turn of the nineteenth century, where the seemingly orphaned Valerie lives with her pious grandmother, played by a young woman in thick, white make-up. Valerie's grandmother is the first of many characters who are not who they seem, as the film's frequent use of heavy make-up and masks reinforces.

Valerie compliments her oddly sensual Victorian little girl dresses with a pair of silver bell earrings which her grandmother urges her to get rid of after learning Valerie has started menstruating. As they were her mother's, Valerie keeps them, which proves a wise decision as the earrings provide magical protection against danger and death, though the reason is never made clear. The earrings are also coveted by a pale, predatory vampire, who looks exactly like the titular Nosferatu of the original silent film, jagged teeth, pointy ears and all. The vampire, in a boggling twist, may or may not be Valerie's father. He sends his human son Eagle, who may or may not be Valerie's brother, to steal the earrings while Valerie is sleeping, setting off all manner of strange events. Eagle, who despite the possible blood relation and age difference, falls in love with Valerie and returns the earrings, thereafter suffering all manner of abuse from his enraged father.

The film proceeds into even weirder territory, with Valerie's grandmother giving her house (and Valerie's inheritance) to the vampire, her former lover, in exchange for eternal, vampiric youth. While her grandmother claims she has never loved anyone else, she is shown flagellating herself in sexual frustration at the feet of a visiting priest, another former lover, who later tries to rape Valerie. The spurned priest rallies the town to burn Valerie at the stake, as a temptress and witch, though as the flames are licking up the pyre the magical earrings whisk Valerie away to her own doorstep. In yet another unsettling episode, Valerie resurrects the vampire who may be her father, through a bloody kiss, after she calmly bites into a stolen chicken. Despite having told Valerie he wished to die and after being generously revived by her, the vampire attacks Valerie and installs her in a flower-lined coffin in his crypt.

Meanwhile, the town's white-clad girl virgins and passel of nuns wander about, shielding their eyes from the public sex of a visiting troupe of actors. After escaping the crypt, Valerie heals a young bride her vampire grandmother has attacked, by making-out and sleeping in the same bed. Eagle leaves Valerie after witnessing her resurrecting kiss with the vampire he claims isn't their father. And the lecherous priest hangs himself, only to be revived, somehow, by Valerie's earrings. Confusing, yes, but the cinematography is so gorgeous, the film so oneric, and the story so bizarre, it's a pleasure to sort out. And one gets the feeling that the plot was never meant to be rational or linear. Instead the film well captures the maelstrom of desires and danger surrounding awakening, female sexuality. The film ends at a bacchanal in the woods, with all the town participating, even the prepubescent virgin girls exchanging kisses while frolicking in a stream. Valerie wanders by seductive scenes involving her grandmother, Eagle, her vampire/maybe father, and the young bride, all beckoning her to join them in their dalliances. Instead Valerie collapses into her bed, inexplicably laid out in the woods, while the town's denizens circle round her as she falls asleep, with the closing lyrics: When you awake, my love, keep your secret safe.

Valerie shares much of the surrealist spirit and female viewpoint of the films by fellow Czech New Wave director Vera Chytilova, particularly the hyper-saturated color and unsettling dreaminess of Chytilova's Fruit of Paradise. Valerie bears other similarities to Fruit of Paradise as well: the idyllic natural setting, the troubled innocence and burgeoning passion of the lead female character, the contrast of sweet sensuality with dangerous hedonism, and the sexualized, murderous pursuit of the heroine. Another film that comes to mind while watching Valerie is art horror classic Suspira, albeit without the gore and heightened suspense. Though a difficult film, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders gorgeously evokes the confusion, joys and dangers of a young woman's sexual awakening and the Gothic, supernatural trope provides much in the way of metaphor. The vampiric characters, conflicting depictions of eroticism, and Valerie's age appropriate curiosity and lack of judgment about what she sees plumb the complexities of impending womanhood deeper than most straight-forward tales could hope to do.
Posted by: R. Baker

Video Reviews (February 10th, 2007)