A young girl whom lives in a surreal and fantastical world, finds herself being quested after, influenced, and tricked by vampires, bishops, men and women alike as she approaches womanhood.
While I might personally not agree with what the themes are saying in “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” it is impossible to deny that what Jaromil Jires (“Capricious Summer”) is trying to do shines through his work beautifully. I don’t have to agree with an artist to see his point, and likewise, I don’t have to agree with him to genuinely enjoy their films, even if there are a few sequences in this film that made me uncomfortable.
I feel like before I get too far into this review I need to give a bit of a warning as to the content of this movie (something I rarely do). There are two scenes of animal cruelty, one of which plays an important role in the plot (so, mild spoilers)- one depicts the twitching final moments of a headless chicken, and another depicts a polecat attacking a chicken and then both of them being shot. Another warning: this is a film about a girl coming of age and how many of the people (and magical monsters) in the small little village trying to influence her as to what she should do in terms of sexuality; our lead actress Jaroslava Schallerova was only thirteen at the time of filming, and there are two or three sequences where we see her naked and men blatantly ogle her. I’m not even going to try to justify this- I don’t think it’s right that they cast a girl so young for the role of Valerie; you really have to decide for yourself if you want to watch this. Also, as this is a Christian site, most of the themes of this are an inditement of those who stay in loveless marriages or limit themselves to one sexual partner solely for the sake of their religion. Jires seems to be poking fun of those that adhere to the sixth commandment (for Roman Catholics the sixth commandment is against committing adultery), saying that all they’ve done is put a cage around themselves. Again, I do not particularly agree with the themes, nor do I appreciate some of the content, but the way this story is told that really made me enjoy it as a whole. If you’ve seen Ken Russell’s brilliantly disturbing film “The Devils”, then those are the kinds of themes you should expect and even the way you should expect to see them approached, though, there are far less crazy naked nuns in this movie.
I’m a sucker for fantasy films, and I’ve recently discovered that I absolutely love the aesthetic of European fantasy films from the 60s and 70s like “The Hourglass Sanitorium”, “Viy”, “The Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors”, or “Donkey Skin”. These fantasy films are often stuffed to the gills with bizarre imagery and wonderful production design, and even better, they tended to be aimed more at adults than children. These films aren’t afraid to use frightening images, magical items with vaguely defined properties, and they’re not afraid of trying to teach rather harsh lessons. To me, watching these European fantasy flicks felt like discovering the original Brothers Grimm tales after being gobbling up the Disney-fied 70s fantasy stuff throughout the days of my youth (like “Doctor Dolittle (1967)” or “Bedknobs and Broomsticks”)- it just hits me on a whole different level entirely.
“Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” is one of the most beautifully realized films I’ve watched in recent memory. From the very beginning, we feel as if we’ve wandered into a dream. There are sometimes long sequences where, if not watched from a metaphorical perspective, the film would probably make little sense. Jires is amazing at ascribing meaning to multiple recurring motifs; water, fire, flowers, and colors all seem to gradually mean more as the film continues. The cinematography works with the production design to help it feel more ethereal, and the dreamlike way in which Valerie navigates the world she lives in brings to mind fairy tale protagonists like Little Red Riding Hood, Alice from “Alice in Wonderland”, and Aurora from “Sleeping Beauty”.
The characters that populate this world are sometimes charming, like Valerie’s intended, Orlik (Petr Kopriva), and others like the bishop, Valerie’s Grandmother, and a some of the men in the town (many of whom are all played by Helena Anyzova) all seem to have more malicious plans for Valerie. Valerie constantly finds herself being influenced by others, many of whom are trying to steal her pearl earrings, which Orlik assures her have magical properties. The story is filled with humor, spellbinding sequences of surreal happenings, and plenty of meaning. Were it not for some of the content, I honestly think this could’ve been one of my favorite films, just because of the overall aesthetic atmosphere. Calling this film magical is the biggest understatement of this whole review.
This movie is great, but I have to say that with reservations. I loved this movie for 80% of what it was, and disliked the other 20% because I honestly don’t think there’s ever a reason to show a thirteen year old girl naked or kill animals in the name of art. If Jires would’ve done those things differently I do think it would’ve changed the overall atmosphere of the film, but I honestly think it would’ve been easier for me to recommend to people too. It’s up to you if you want to watch this; it’s great, but I can’t say I’ll watch it often.
Review Written By: