Friday, April 29, 2011

Valerie a Týden Divů (Valerie and Her Week of Wonders) (1970)
CZECHOSLOVAKIA --- fantasy/ horror

Dir: Jaromil Jires

There have been more than a few films that have explored the connection of fairy tales to a young woman's sexual awakening. You get plenty of male coming-of-age films, but seldom well-told female-centric films that show us a progression of growing up. The few we often do get are usually love stories, and they are usually told through fairy tale devices. It's safe to say, this film is none of the above, at least not to the status quo.

"Valerie a Týden Divů" is one of those films that doesn't particularly need to tell a coherent story, but just has the capacity to look like a beautiful work of art. It is an experimental film of sorts, but shows us through the rose-colored glasses of a young girls early youth, how she begins to awaken to the subtle change into a woman.

The opening has 13 year-old Valerie asleep (Jaroslava Schallerovà, who was really 14 years old at the time of filming), while a boy sneaks in the barn she's in and steals her earrings. The boy, Eagle, is scolded by a pasty looking man adorned in all black, with a cape and hat, and answers to constable. Symbolic visuals suggests, that Valerie is just at the age of losing her innocence. The earrings are returned to her. In the morning, after observing some women frolicking intimately among themselves, she goes to her pale creepy grandmother (in lieu of the evil stepmother), who is a bit domineering in her wishes that Valerie concentrate on the things of the church. Most certainly not playing with her mothers earrings. She states, missionaries are visiting and will be staying in their house. Curiously, most of them are portrayed as ghastly, Max Shreck-looking vampires cloaked in black.

By the time you get to the middle of the film, you realize everything is bent on stealing young Valerie's purity and innocence. Mostly sexual, but deeper than even that. The grandmother seemed to force her belief on  fräulein Valerie, one of the missionaries tries to take advantage of her, and yet the town parson seems to want to protect her. Confusing? A little, but the Catholic symbolism is pretty much speckled throughout the film in it's defense of staying pure and holy for God. Even mmarriage is portrayed in a pessimistic light, as Valerie observes a bride who seemingly enjoys her honeymoon with more than one lover, but yet begins to change in appearance. Also, Valerie's own love interest is revealed to be her brother, and lest we forget the vampires of the "church". Always a symbol of forbidden lust. Most films from the early 70's had vestiges of the free-loving sentiments of the ‘60s, and this film was seemingly being a harbinger of the introspective soul-searching films that would appear later in the decade.

All throughout the film, we see recurring themes such as Valerie being framed like a painting or even like an image in a mirror. Just another reason the film is art house masterpiece, filled to the brim with subtle expository shots one could pause and study. The composition, cinematography, and ethereal production design is gorgeous, and ten minutes into the film you almost get the feeling that you're watching someone's dreams like in the film "Who Wants to Kill Jessi?". Released in the same year as another surreal classic of experimental cinema, Alejandro Jodorowsky's "El Topo", "Valerie" has mesmerized many with a cult following for decades since it was discovered. It's theme has inspired films even to this day with Stephanie Meyers "Twilight" or author Angela Carter's short story collection "The Bloody Chamber"; which was adapted to film as "A Company of Wolves". In that, "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders" is inspired by the classic fairy tales like "Alice in Wonderland" and "Little Red Riding Hood". Both which have since become known for having underlying psychological themes of a young woman's sexual awakening.