Monday, April 16, 2012

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Strange, hypnotic, surreal, unsettling, innocent. Jaromil Jires' 1970 film, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders embodies all of these things. Part of the Czech New Wave (everybody gets a New Wave!), Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a dreamlike Alice in Wonderland-esque tale of a 13-year-old girl crossing the line into womanhood and sexual awakening.

So many odd and interesting things happen in this movie that I don't even know where to begin. Characters change roles in her life throughout the story; grandmothers become mothers, boyfriends become brothers. There's a pair of enchanted earrings, a priest who is maybe not as holy as he should be. Oh, and a vampire, there's definitely a vampire, who might also be her grandfather. Or her father.

I'm sorry if that description didn't help. As I said, the film is dreamlike, and as such, the narrative is very loose, and since it has been a few weeks since I watched it, the movie as a whole is kind of jumbled up in my mind. I suppose I might be failing as a critic right now. It's a good thing I'm not making a go at this professionally. This movie is really hard to describe!

What I can say is that the visuals are all very striking and distinctly eastern European. I loved the colors and the camera work. I'm never going to forget the image of the drops of vivid red blood falling on the flower, for example. We all know what that symbolizes, right? There's all sorts of strange Freudian symbolism going on throughout.

The Czech New Wave is the same scene that produced Jan Svankmajer, the brilliant director who incorporates stop motion animation, often of such things as raw meat and taxidermied animals. Almost two decades later, he would create his own version of Alice in Wonderland, which is quite possibly my favorite of all. Certainly the most messed up version.

I would actually really love to watch Valerie and Her Week of Wonders a second time. Admittedly, I didn't see it in the best way possible. I watched it on a computer screen, on Criterion's free Hulu channel, which as it turns out, interrupts the movie with commercials every ten minutes. Not a very good way to immerse yourself into a work of beauty, is it? I wouldn't recommend it. I just loved the title so much, I couldn't resist checking it out, commercials be damned. I hope Criterion puts Valerie and Her Week of Wonders out on Blu Ray in the future and I can watch it uninterrupted on my TV. Maybe if that ever happens, I will post a much more coherent review that will make you all want to see it and you will enjoy it as much as I am failing to express.

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