The film Jaromil Jires directed before this one, 1969’s The Joke, has been described as “possibly the most shattering indictment of totalitarianism to come out of a Communist country.” As a result, it was banned for nearly twenty years.
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is based on the 1935 Vítezslav Nezval novel. Much like that work, this movie is a work of surrealism and one of the films that I can best point to being part of a genre I’ve been referring to as “dark childhood” films, which I’ve come to represent as movies that use the supernatural to explain the pains of oncoming adulthood.
Valerie is asleep when a thief steals her earrings. She’s frightened by the masked Constable, who grows angry when the thief simply returns what he has stolen to her. That’s when she learns that the earrings were a last gift from her mother before she entered a convent, but they once belonged to the Constable.
The Thief and the Constable remain at odds over the earrings and Valerie. That night, she meets the masked man in the street, where he leads her to a chamber where her grandmother ritualistically whips herself all in the name of a past lover. Oh yeah — there’s also a woman named Elsa who was once the Constable’s lover that grows young again when she tastes blood.
The earrings pass through multiple owners and it turns out that Valerie’s blood itself is the key to nearly everyone’s survival. People transform into monsters and cats and if you didn’t guess already, the movie at this point has descended into a dream that only Valerie can wake up from.
Honestly, it’s hard to rationally write about this film. You’re either going to love the magic in every frame or you’re going to think it’s too arty or strange. Obviously, I belong to the former camp.
Members of the bands Espers, Fern Knight, Fursaxa and other musicians formed the Valerie Project in 2006, performing original songs while the film plays.
If you’ve ever read the works of Angela Carter or saw the film that she wrote for director Neil Jordan, The Company of Wolves, you’re seeing work directly influenced by Valerie.
Grab the Criterion blu of this and do yourself a favor. It’s a perfect film.