The weather is getting nice and you are now thinking of betraying the computer that kept you company all winter and taking a walk outside. Don’t bother. The air may be fresh but there are also bugs flying around out there that want to bite you and steal your blood or maybe lay eggs in your hair. Best to just stay indoors and watch VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS, a 1970 Czech film that looks more beautiful than anything going on in your neighborhood. I can say that with confidence even though I don’t know where you live because this movie is perpetually gorgeous from first frame to last. I’m not entirely sure what the hell is going on in it but it sure is something to behold. To call it dreamlike is an understatement, VALERIE is like having ten dreams at the same time that overlap and blend into each other with the ease of a breeze. It’s simultaneously simple and complex and feels like falling into a painting that morphs from one style to another without pause. One moment it’s lush and expressionistic, the other moment it’s gruesome and darkly gothic and then back again.
VALERIE is based on a novel from 1935 and depicts the surreal perceptions of a young girl shedding her childhood and moving forward into a confusing adult world. It reminds me very much of 1973’s LEMORA: A CHILD’S TALE OF THE SUPERNATURAL with its preoccupation with innocence, corruption and aging. Both films also share a curious protagonist seemingly surrounded by exploitive forces ready to pounce. For Valerie, growing up is essentially the act of learning that monsters are not only real, but they also just happen to be everybody she knows. We’re witnessing a rite of passage of sorts; she is being welcomed to sit at the adult table but it comes with the knowledge that she will be dining with parasitic vampires. We’ve all been there. It’s not all darkness and depravity though, as terrifying as some of the people and situations that Valerie encounters are, she retains a clear adventurous spirit. It’s hard not to like a gal who, when tied to a stake to be burned as a witch, has the moxie to make faces and jeer at the threatening mob. Plus this movie has weasels.
Folks who get frustrated with ambiguity may want to take a pass here. Characters change identities like hats and for every concrete step forward, there is a dizzying step back. Personally I can’t resist a film this visually stunning and I like the idea that with every return trip I may spot something new and understand it a shade more (or not). I’m also rather in love with the soundtrack which is just as haunting and provocative as the film itself. To be honest with you, this is a difficult film to write about. The more you think about it the more it evaporates. All I know is that for a film that runs a mere 73 minutes, it casts a formidable spell that may leave you in a trance like state. I advise watching this movie, but I don’t advise operating any heavy machinery afterward.