Through no design or intent, I happened to watch two movies back-to-back in which 13-year-old girls lost their virginity and found that the world is full of wolves, vampires and weasels. The first was a revisit of Neil Jordan's darkly lush exploration of the Little Red Riding Hood mythos in The Company of Wolves. The second is the film I'm reviewing here, a vintage Czech malice in wonderland surrealist allegory called Valerie & Her Week of Wonders, which I saw for the first time.
Released in 1970 and an intriguing juxtaposition of the French New Wave and Italian Neo Realism, this film (directed by Jaromil Jireš; a well-respected, but certainly not a populist, filmmaker) this film actually brought to my mind a much more naturalistic cross between the visual styles of Murnau (Nosferatu), Russell (The Devils), Fellini (Satyricon) and Bergman (Cries and Whispers). Unique and interesting, to say the least!
While there are several brainy, high-concept metaphysical themes explored in Valerie & Her Week of Wonders — coming of age, suppression of truth, trust, politics, religion, hypocrisy - I, as a dutiful horror.com writer, shall focus only on the surface aspect of it as a vampire film.
At first, it's not apparent as a horror movie. Perhaps that's why it's virtually unknown in our circles… but it's every bit as good as, if not better, than many cult classics I've happened upon over the years. (Lemora: A Child's Tale of the Supernatural comes to mind, as having been overrated.)
Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) is a pubescent brunet beauty, wide-eyed and innocent, a good girl living in a big house alone with her stern grandmother. She plays in the fields, swims, plays her piano, and goes to church. Childhood is idyllic until one night, a thief comes and steals her beautiful earrings. When she get up to give chase, she encounters a horrific, white-faced ghoul who covers his countenance with a weasel-mask. The next day, her jewelry is miraculously returned to her, but the gem of her innocence is soon to be lost forever.
In a scenario of dreamlike fantasies, Valerie spies on lesbian nymphs bathing beneath a waterfall; she meets a bespectacled young man who soon proclaims undying love for her; she witnesses the unhappy wedding of a lush young woman to a withered old man; she discovers that the priest she trusted is a lecherous vampire; and that she is not, as she always thought, an orphan.
A sensuous, often suspenseful fable saturated with shades of Sigmund Freud, Lewis Carroll and the Marquis de Sade, the horror comes in the form of actual, traditional fanged vampires who can shape-shift and cause all kinds of deadly mischief. When Valerie is burnt at the stake as a witch — the story is just getting underway!
Valerie & Her Week of Wonders will be playing May 16 and May 20, 2012 at The Cinefamily in Los Angeles, CA.
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Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson