Overlooked & Underseen: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)
After rewatching Suspiria this weekend (yes, again), it got me thinking about the movie I’ve decided to highlight today. My husband came across Valerie and Her Week of Wonders back in February of 2015 and, frankly, when he gave me a brief synopsis of it, I wasn’t exactly thrilled to watch it. We had been watching Russian fairytale movies and I just lumped it in with those. If you haven’t seen a Russian fairytale movie from the 1930s-1960s, seek one out. They are really strange and creepy. It’s like someone brought these films from another planet. Everything looks so odd; the colors, films stock, techniques… all otherworldly. They can also be very dry and boring so, again, I put Valerie into this category. Boy, was I wrong. It was one of those movies I kept thinking about. You know the ones I’m talking about, where, out of the blue, an image pops into your head and you just start seeing a slideshow of images. It didn’t help that this movie was like some fucked up kind of fever dream where you weren’t really sure what the hell was going on but you knew you liked it. Yeah, that’s this movie.
Based on the Czechoslovakian novel of the same name by Vítězslav Nezval, Valerie and her Week of Wonders stars Jaroslava Schallerová in the title role of Valerie. We follow the 13-year-old as she manoeuvers through a week in her life. Trying to describe the plot to you wouldn’t really be helpful because, honestly, there is so much going on in the movie it would get too complicated. The movie is a fairytale, and much like the Russian fairytale movies mentioned above, Valerie is filled with surreal imagery and deals with themes like sexual awakening, religion, love, and Eastern European folklore. Valerie is just starting her journey into womanhood so everything happening ties into this. She has people coming at her from all sides; the group of missionaries who have come to town, along with an acting troupe who also have also decided to visit. There’s some magic going on with Valerie’s special earrings that were supposedly her dead mother’s. She also received a pearl that she swallows when she needs to get herself out of a sketchy situations like being accused of being a witch by the local bishop (who tried to deflower her but she refused). Because we’re in Eastern Europe, there is also vampirism happening throughout the movie. Yep, there are vampires, some of the Max Schreck variety.
The movie is a visual feast. Even if you’re not sure exactly what is going on at any given point, it doesn’t even matter, just let the movie wash over you. I just fell in love with the look of this movie. From the sets, makeup, and costumes, down to the framing of the shots, it all just works for me. The film will transport you to her village and take you along with Valerie as she experiences all the weirdness to come.
Schallerová is wonderful as the Valerie. She perfectly straddles the line between innocence and her burgeoning curiosity about all thing sex. The actress was only 13 when she filmed this so knowing that might ruffle the features of some. She isn’t really involved in anything explicit, the movie leaves that to the adults in the movie.
If you’re looking for a horror movie that looks like a really fucked up version of a Grimm fairy tale (and if you’re not, why not?), then this movie is for you. If the idea of witchcraft, vampires, sexuality of all kinds, weird family bonds, and rogue priests doesn’t grab you, I don’t know what will. Criterion released a Blu-ray 4K restored version of the movie in 2015. For this viewing, I found it streaming on FilmStuck.