I JUST SAW… Valerie and her Week of Wonders (Czechoslovakia, 1970)

Or should I say: “I just saw, for the 9th time, Valerie and her Week of Wonders”? Because, for this entrance in my I JUST SAW series – where I take a look at unknown worthy horror flicks – I decided to talk about one of my all-time favourite horror films.

Before I proceed in trying to review this title (which is everything but a simple task), let me just introduce the type of cinematic experience Valerie and her Week of Wonders actually is, so that you can decide for yourself whether this film might be right up your alley or not.

Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a 70s Czechoslovakian arthouse horror – which is per se not everybody’s cup of tea, I’d say. Also, the film directed by visionary filmmaker Jaromil Jires doesn’t follow any traditional narrative and features almost no dialogue: yes, it’s an oddball!

Yet, this is not my typical I JUST SAW pick – an unknown decent movie that I wish many more people knew and watched – since it’s officially listed among the Top 50 horror films of all time, inserted in the 101 horror movies you must see before you die (images above), and it’s got a 100% on RottenTomatoes and an astounding 7.7 on IMDb. Valerie and her Week of Wonders is one of those movies that masses are unaware of (sorry to sound elitist) but critics and cinema students easily come across.

Valerie 2.jpgI guess – because guessing is all you can do with this cinematic experience – Valerie is a fairy tale woven around the sexual awakening of a young girl (to no one’s surprise, Valerie). Her ‘new condition’, if you will, pisses off her mother and, also, causes Valerie to be molested by a priest, who is also a vampire and might also be her father or her brother. Yes, just go with it.

Valerie feature.jpgMost likely – at least according to a few sources – everything in the movie has a deeper meaning than meets the eye: for example, some argue that the power of belief and its will in the distortion of reality is one of Valerie’s more crucial cinematic aspects.  In this way, this isn’t simply a belief in the sense of a religious doctrine, but the moral belief of the main character whose fantasies dictate the narrative ruptures within the film. Yet, others think Valerie is first and foremost about the links, barriers and cross-over between innocence and sexuality.

Probably those interpretations that read through the lines and delve into metaphors and symbolism are truthful… but I honestly, even upon 9th viewing, can’t fully understand what Valerie and her Week of Wonders is about.

valerie-and-her-week-of-wonders-4Why do I love this film, then? First and foremost, I experience it as a unique visual and audio experience, with no comparisons in the history of horror cinema. The cinematography by Jan Curik is simply a work of art and, combined with an unprecedented set design, gives the movie a unique mood that can’t be found anywhere else. The use of pale, whashed-out colours and dreamlike camera-work and editing (with subtle and gorgeous fading) gives Valerie a feel that’s nearly impossible to describe. Yet, this film features a soundtrack that’s eerie, beautiful, calming and emotionally impactful at the same time: personally, the score for Valerie might be one of my favourite in cinema history.

I know what I’m saying here might sound both vague and pretentious, but vagueness is what I think the filmmakers were going for: as opposed to trying to interpret the film, I personally just experience it as a dream that’s both unsettling (like a nightmare) and beautiful.

Just like waking up from a dream, every time I finish Valerie and her Week of Wonders I feel zoned out, filled with a feeling that mixes confusion, relaxation and uneasiness. Also, just like after a dream, I find myself trying to grip to the few aspects of the movie I could understand to put the pieces together.

Valerie 4Just like Valerie’s family, the film is characterised by a mixture of seductions, monstrosities, aggressions and duplicity: definitely more unsettling and odd than scary, I wouldn’t even define Valerie and her Week of Wonders as a horror, more so – as I said a billion times by now – as a nightmare that you experience but can’t fully understand.

Obviously, Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a film I would recommend only to those people who, after reading this little review, feel the urge to watch it straight away. Otherwise, I don’t think you’d find anything to like in the film.

However, in my book, this is a masterpiece: a unique work of art which combines genres and horror elements with a beautiful execution from every point of view.

Valerie and her Week of Wonders              10+/10

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imdb My review is also available on IMDb – Valerie and her Week of Wonders 

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