Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Spring awakening
★★
☆☆
Released: 
1970
Director: 
Jaromil Jires
Starring: 
Jaroslava Schallerová, Helena Anýzová, Petr Kopriva, Jirí Prymek
The Setup: 
Young girl has a series of dreams that revolve around her budding sexuality.
Discussion: 

A reader recommended this to me like a year ago, and it just finally came to the top of my Netflix list. I think he based his recommendation on my review of Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon, and also told me about Alucarda, both of which could be seen as somewhat related in terms of tone—especially Alucarda. Anyway, all I knew about it was that it was going to be pretty wild.

The first thing we realize is that this is a Czech production by Jaromil Jires, who is supposed to be a fairly prolific and acclaimed director. We then see a number of beautiful and erotic tableaux featuring Valerie, intercept with credits. It is all VERY 60s in that kind of flowing hair, lots-of-curlicues kind of way. Valerie is supposed to be thirteen and is played by Jaroslava Schallerová, fourteen at the time of filming.

I knew this movie was supposed to have some weirdness… I didn’t know it would be ALL weirdness, and is essentially one long dream. First Valerie is sleeping in a greenhouse, then a man comes up with a torch and hangs over her, stealing her earrings. She wakes and walks into another room, where she sees a witch who lifts a door and says “The Weasel!” There is in fact a weasel there. Then Valerie is in water, and hands reach down from above and replace the earrings, and then she’s in a yard and sees a daisy with a few drops of blood. I think we’re supposed to infer that she’s menstruating.

Things continue in this vein, with everything connected from one scene to the next, but the entire thing making just enough sense to seem vaguely meaningful without ever cohering into a whole. Valerie stays with her Granny, who I’m quite sure is played by a man in drag. She sees this horrible guy with bad teeth transform into a dewy young stud and back again. She goes to a bizarre religious ritual just for virgins. She hangs out with her brother, who she loves and feels comfortable with, but who one day tries to seduce her. This bearded priest tries to seduce her, but she takes a suicide pill and dies, whereupon he hangs himself, then she wakes up. Oh, and later on he wakes up, too.

All this time the photography is phenomenal. Sometimes it is just the look; again carrying through that very lacy, Aubrey Beardsley-style 60s aesthetic, but sometimes it is the action as well. For example, when Valerie is supposed to die after taking the suicide pill, she twists her body up in a lace curtain. It gathers around her beautifully then flutters to the ground, a wonderful little visual metaphor for her death at such a young age. Of course, just a minute or so later she’s alive and well again.

About five minutes in—when I was already far into my notes and thought “It’s ONLY been five minutes?”—I was wondering if the film would get incredibly boring after a short time, as there doesn’t seem to be much of a story and, as it’s all a dream, none of it really matters in terms of a plot or overall goal. Happily, the movie doesn’t really get boring. There’s just enough elements that make sense and can be pieced together to keep the viewer’s interest and make one want to keep paying attention and trying to guess at every event’s significance. Me, I was essentially jotting down the major “plot points”—such as they are—while at the same time saying “WHY are you writing all this down? It’s just a dream and none of it is going to make it into your review.” And while that’s true—still I was compelled to write it all down.

SPOILERS > > >
At the end Valerie’s hymen remains intact [at least I THINK it does], Granny [who was going to sell Valerie’s virginity to the Weasel to restore her lost youth] dies, and Valerie’s mother and father return. Surprise, her Dad is the same alluring guy she’s been seeing periodically, and has been presented as the Weasel in disguise. The whole cast circles Valerie’s bed, vanishes, and she wakes up.
< < < SPOILERS END

It was interesting. Vaguely. Much as I was saying it succeeded in holding my interest, I have to confess I did get a little bored in the last 20 minutes. Luckily it’s only 75 minutes.

It’s a little discombobulating to see all these adult men coming on to the 13-year-old Valerie, almost raping her in some cases, including the nasty bad-teeth monster who is saying he’s her father. I had no idea the Czech were so open to such things.

Anyway, amusing enough, but I wouldn’t rush out, unless it really sounds like your thing. I wasn’t unhappy to watch it, but if I had it all to do over again I might not have bothered.

Should you watch it: 

If you’re into that whole lush 60s style and / or prepubescent sexuality.