Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divu, Czechoslovakia, 1970)

The perils and pleasures of growing up

The perils and pleasures of growing up

Another dose of bonkers Czech cinema is good for anyone with a jaded palette; it’s good for anyone anytime.  The marvellously titled Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is based on a 1930s surrealist novel by Vítězslav Nezval, which was why the post-’68 censors allowed it, Nezval having been a ‘good communist’. As a good surrealist, he poked fun at bourgeois values but, as noted in the last post, bourgeoise sensibility wasn’t limited to the west of the ‘iron curtain’ so the Czech establishment got more than they bargained for in this exploration of a 13-year old’s ‘coming of age’.

Much of the imagery is startlingly beautiful, with wonderful stylised compositions; in one scene Valerie runs through a misty field – the film is worth seeing for that alone. The plot draws on numerous influences, Alice in Wonderland and the vampire genre are two obvious touchstones. Like Daisies, if is female-centred, the men are predatory with the possible exception of ‘Eagle’ who may, or may not, be Valerie’s brother. He does rush to her rescue a lot. Whether Valerie always needs rescuing is open to doubt as the film dramatises the excitement at, and fear of, sexual awaking. Valerie’s body, obviously, is important and the degree of nudity is surprising given that Jaroslava Schallerová was actually 13 when the film was made. The film, however, is far from prurient and Schallerová’s performance is magical.

 

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