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VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS, 1970
Movie Review

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VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS,  MOVIE POSTERVALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS, 1970
Movie Reviews

Directed by Jaromil Jires
Starring: Jaroslava Schallerová, Helena Anýžová, Karel Engel, Jan Klusák, Petr Kopriva
Review by Ben Szwediuk


SYNOPSIS:

Thirteen year old Valerie lives in a large hotel alone with her grandmother in a peasent Czech town. Upon getting her first period she is launched into a surrealist bewildering dream world of intriuge, vampirism and carnality.

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REVIEW:

As a sub-genre, the Vampire film and its multitude of themes, motifs and conventions, is among the most ubiquitous in literature, film or television. And, at varying intervals, comes back into vogue sufficiently that each generation exploits, interprets and finds expression through myths of the undead, each adding, emphasizing and sublimating it's own facets of the legend to reflect it's own interests and anxieties.

We are currently- in late 2009- subject to one of these peaks of Vampiric profligacy and, once again, predominantly, it is sex and desire that lies at the thematic core of the current facsimile legion of adolescent vampire soap operas. This is true both cinema and in television.

The inherent carnality and clumsy melodrama that characterises the most modern epidemic of the type may be seen as a representation of the inevitable capitalist whim for exploitation of the appetites of its teen-aged audience. Consequently, depictions of sexuality within these films- the delightful "Let the Right One In" excepted-reflect little more than the shallow, base utilitarianism of the multinational cinema industry, far more than they do any sort of willful or insightful artistic exploration.

Traditionally, however, this has not been the case. Though it is something of a platitude to read the novel "Dracula" as an allegory for the author's anxiety over his own (as well as societies epidemic of) syphilis, never-the-less, notions and discussions of the vampire in fiction and, consequently, the manner in which they are rendered by artists across media is palpably affected by this. Even though it makes little secret of the fact that sexuality is central to it's themes never-the-less, Valerie and her week of wonders has to be considered a marked oddity in the sub-genre- though it is far more sophisticated and intricate a work than many, if not, all depictions of the vampire in cinema. Seldom has vampirism been subject to and from the avant garde, whether in literature on the screen, and in this respect Valerie Could be considered unique.

Valerie emerged at the centre of the Czech new wave of cinema (the summer of 1970 to be precise-a date contrived so that it's 13 year old start, Jaroslava Schallerová, could film during her school holidays) and directed by celebrated Czech film-maker Jaromil Jires, the film was based on the book of the same name by prolific Czech surrealist, Vitezslav Netzal. In fact, it is an aberration stylistically in the part of Scahellrova, for although a prominent exponent of the avant-garde- much in common with the French New Wave that, for the most part, preceded him-this is the only film that under his direction that exhibits prominent surrealist traits which, it must be assumed, are derived from the source text himself.

The narrative journey is at once intoxicating and disarming, lavish in colour and concept, resplendent in Gothic grotesqueries of light, darkness and character. Schallerova uses his abundant technical ability and fluency in cinematic language to launch both a audience and protagonist into a world of swirling dream-like temptations, threats and iniquities. Valerie, is extraordinary as the curious, chaste adolescent who is similultaneously pure and curious; bemused and bewitched by the cacophony of emotional and physical temptations that seemingly erupt around her at the onset of her period. Here, vampirism is used as a direct metaphor for young female sexuality, as all at once, her nascent womanhood is mercilessly pursued by the people of the village- as it is perceived as both threat and elixir alike.

Schallerova artfully renders the myriad of two and three faced monstrosities that seek to possess Valerie. And employing, in a delicate, yet, unrepentantly polemical symbolism quite alien to most modern audiences, he artfully savage -through cinematic language rather than audible verbosity- the hypocrisies of repressive -especially colloquial- Christianity. Valerie is set upon by local priests and monsters masquerading as missionaries; even her beloved grandmother is revealed as a cruel yet beautiful young vampire that seeks to consume her beauty and vitality.

Valerie and her week of wonders is a film too often ignored, even in the litany of contemporary film schools to whom the Czech New Wave often receives scholarly scrutiny. And, yet, it deserves a greater, perhaps even a cult revival as a unique work of a film maker that was able to contrive a charming surreal and subversive work of art. Doing so even under the extreme artistic repression of imposed Soviet rule and in a genre that is too often a vessel for avarice and cynicism, rather than as should be -for passion.

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