Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Blu-ray (1970/2015)

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, Blu-ray (1970/2015)

Director: Jaromil Jires
Cast: Jaroslava Schallerova, Helena Anyzova, Petr Kopriva
Studio: Czech National/ Janus Films/ The Criterion Collection 761 [6/30/15]
Video: 1.37:1 1080p HD color, restored
Audio: Czech mono PCM
Subtitles: English
Extras: Three early B&W shorts by Jires: Uncle, Footprints, The Hall of Lost Footsteps; New interview with Czech film scholar Peter Hames; 2006 interviews with actors Jaroslava Schallerova and Jan Klusak; Alternate soundtrack to film by the Valerie Project; Video on the origin of the new music track; Essay in printed booklet by critic Jana Prkryl
Length: 76 min.
Rating: *****

This is a most unusual and strange film, which greatly elevates the art of cinema. Valerie is a gorgeous 13-year-old girl living in a rather medievalish village, with her strange grandmother, and she dutifully attends church. She also frolics in the lovely surroundings, picking wildflowers, eating berries, and swimming. Someone steals her earrings, which seem to have some sort of mystical power. The next day they are returned by a boy who may or may not be her brother, but seems to protect her from the increasingly wild dangers of her surroundings.

Valerie changes from an innocent young girl to one more open to the erotic images she sees around her and the world of the adults. Vampires also get into the story, and the awful character who may or may not be her father is patterned after the ghoul in Murnau’s (and Herzog’s) Nosferatu. So Valerie may be considered a horror film, but it’s really much more than that. The vampire trappings seem to be there more to cause erotic stirrings in Valerie than to shock the viewer. She seems to be always eating berries, which leave blood-looking stains on her lips. Some of the scenes may be a bit unsettling, but that’s the nature of this type of surreal fairytale.

There’s also plenty of dangerous priests and nuns in the film, which of course the Soviet overlords at the time really liked. But they didn’t like the rest of the film at all and held it back. The on-screen images are often just gorgeous, and very carefully composed. Like a more modern Brughel painting. The restoration is of course excellent and the supplements are most interesting – especially the three short films. I tried to get the alternate psych-folk soundtrack music, created and recorded in 2007, to play. The instructions were to just press Play, but that didn’t work. The original soundtrack is quite appropriate, though not in stereo. Anyway, it’s surely an example of surrealism of the best sort in a film, and a must-see!

—John Sunier

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