Sunday Matinee: Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders

sunday-matineeAnd now for something completely different. Today’s Sunday Matinee is the 1970 Czech New Wave film from director Jaromil Jires, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.

Based on a surrealist novel of the same name, this movie is weirdly haunting, surreal and absolutely fascinating. It’s kind of weird mix of fairy tale, vampirish nightmare and a coming of age story.

Valerie and Her Week of WondersJaroslava Schallerová is Valerie, a 13-year-old girl who has just come of age as symbolized by blood dropping on a flower when she walked past it. The movie starts with a boy named Eaglet who sneaks into a gazebo while Valerie is sleeping and steals her earrings. When she awakes and investigates she comes across a freaky pale faced man with messed up teeth wearing a weasel mask known as Polecat.

Valerie lives with her grandmother who looks more a like a young woman in white makeup than an old woman. Valerie falls asleep and her earrings are returned to her. Missionaries arrive in town and the pale faced man (who looks like a cross between Nosferatu and Death) is among them. Valerie’s grandmother thinks he might be a former lover.

Many more strange events occur, a wedding, a priest tries to seduce Valerie, the pale faced man agrees to give Valerie’s grandmother youth and immortality in exchange for Valerie’s house, people start becoming vampires, the young boy Eaglet who stole Valerie’s earrings might be her brother or is it her boyfriend, it’s a little vague. Valerie is accused of being a witch by the scorned priest and they try to burn her at the stake. Fortunately the earrings are magical and continually save Valerie from these situations.

The movie was made just when the Soviet Union was cracking down on the brief freedom movement that occurred during the Prague Spring in 1968. Director Jaromil Jires had even made a scathing political satire movie during that time called The Joke that managed to get banned after the Soviets reasserted their control.

When Jires made Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, he was one of the few directors still approved by the Soviets to make movies. And while there is hidden pokes at the Soviet regime in Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, the story itself is timeless, you don’t need to place the movie back into the late sixties to understand the movie. Throughout all the surreal and beautifully filmed situations Valerie is more than a match for her foes. No matter what harm someone might try to inflict on her, Valerie always comes out on top, smiling enigmatically.

Author: Shane Hnetka

Shane Hnetka spends most of his life watching movies and reading comic books, using his vast knowledge of genre culture for evil instead of good.