Jun 15, 2010

24 FPS Top 100 Films: No. 83

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[Valerie and her Week of Wonders]
DIR: Jaromil Jires

It’s the blood, almost certainly, that has influenced many writers of both books and movies to associate a girl’s coming of age with the horror genre. Valerie may not have been the first to do it, and certainly it wasn’t the last (films bearing its influence include Carrie and Ginger Snaps), but it remains probably the strangest, and certainly one of the most striking.

For most of its running time (just 72 minutes) Valerie and her Week of Wonders feels quite unlike other movies, quite unlike a movie at all. The story is told in a series of scenes that feel only slightly connected (though the presence of Valerie), but what starts to become clear is that, whether in reality or just in her own mind, Valerie’s (Jaroslava Schallerova) first period has triggered a lot of strange happenings in her town, notably the return of her father, who seems to be a weasel like vampire. Valerie lives with her grandmother (Helena Any´zová), who may also be a vampire, and disappears part way through the film, only to return, young and beautiful, as Valerie’s ‘cousin’. The whole town also seems gripped by sex, with the 14-year-old Valerie at the centre of that too; at one point a priest attacks her, at another she shares a bed (and, by implication, more than that) with a recently married young woman.

I’m not sure I can tell you the story of this film, I’m certainly not sure I can tell you what it means, but neither of those things really matter here, this is a filmic fever dream, and it captures that feel brilliantly. Some sequences are clearly nightmares (most notably the scenes with Valerie’s father), while others seem like beautiful fantasies. Jires often lets these qualities bleed into one another, creating a feeling that you are drifting through a dream world as you watch the film. Watching it is genuinely strange, but it does capture you in a way few other films can.

The performances are excellent, with Schallerova wonderful as the naïve guide to the dream, as puzzled as we are by what it all means. Helena Any´zová, who has three roles, is also a real standout, making clear delineations between her various parts, but also keeping continuity between them that hints at the complexities of what Valerie’s Grandmother may actually be.

It’s also a quite astonishing film to look at, with set designs (Valerie’s completely white bedroom), make up (the ‘weasal’, Valerie’s Grandmother’s very odd old age make up) and images (Valerie about to be burnt at the stake, Valerie kissing a young woman, the whole closing sequence) sticking in your mind long after the film ends. This film is still something of a mystery to me, and perhaps that’s some of its appeal. I highly recommend tracking it down if you want to see something REALLY different.

I’m cheating here, but the whole film is really a patchwork of strangely related single scenes, each them a standout in its own right.

Grandmother: Hedvika is marrying
Valerie: Poor Hedvika

Orlik: [of The Polecat] He's one hundred years overdue for death

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UK: DVD [Remastered]

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