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


Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová, Don’t Cry, Pretty Girls!), who has just tuned thirteen, experiences her first period and that important event in the young girl’s life triggers a series of weird, surreal adventures.

Reaction & Thoughts:

Lewis Carroll’s fantasy books, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, get a complete makeover. This Czech production cleverly transforms Carroll’s famous tales into a coming-of-age drama with horror elements — it’s essentially a fairy tale for adults (the film also has a touch of Charles Perrault’s Little Red Riding Hood).

The phantasmagorical Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is heavy on symbols. Director Jaromil Jires (And Give My Love to the Swallows) deliberately conflates horror and sex in order to demonstrate how puberty brings a sudden onset of anxiety. The idea is to describe through a mix of freakish images the physical and mental changes a girl experiences as she transitions from girl to woman.

The story is set in a deeply religious environment. A society that represses sexuality adds an element of guilt to Valerie’s sexual awakening. She must overcome not only her ambivalence towards sexual desire, but also the pious atmosphere of her small, traditional-minded community. This symbolic struggle is, as the movie illustrates with its nonlinear narrative, very complex.

The transition from child to adult is also interpreted as an emotional and physical rebirth. According to the movie, child and adult can’t exist together on the same plane. That made perfect sense to me. In the film, Valerie is literally burnt at the stake, which is a smart way to convey the emergence of the new individual. It’s all very Freudian and very interesting and clever — a really original way to explain puberty.

There are scary ghouls, vampires, erotic encounters, acts of senseless violence, and many other strange moments, all designed to convey Valerie’s uncertainty about her milestone. Each (surreal) vignette reflects Valerie’s fears, confusion and endless possibilities. And you don’t have to be a woman to identify with Valerie — simply think about the moment you realized that puberty had hit you on the head.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is indeed a movie filled with wonders. It unfolds like a dream (or daylight nightmare). The non-linear narrative requires attention from the viewer, but it is all done in a playful and highly imaginative manner. It’s one of those films that will stay with you long after the fade out. Color, 77 minutes, Rated R.

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