20 July 2016

VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS. (1970) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.




VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS. (1970) A CZECHOSLOVAKIAN HORROR FILM. DISTRIBUTED BY JANUS FILMS. DIRECTED BY JAROMIL JIRES. BASED ON THE AVANT-GARDE NOVEL BY VITEZSLAV NEZVAL. STARRING JAROSLAVA SCHALLEROVA. REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

Watching this film on the big screen as part of the Irish Film Institute's HAUNTED LANDSCAPES season (July 2016) was a bit like having an out-of-body experience. I rushed straight home afterwards to write the review before the essence of the film left me.

I know that that last bit sounds terribly pretentious but I felt that getting my thoughts on it down on paper would be a bit like trying to capture mist and squeeze it into a jar. Let's see how I get on...!

The whole film has the quality of a dream. The Irish Film Institute's brochure for July says of it:

'Associative editing techniques create an hallucinatory collage of images that is at once unsettling and intoxicating.'

That being the case, a chronological she-did-this-and-then-she-did-that type of review probably wouldn't work. The film is surreal, bizarre and makes no sense at all in places, but it doesn't really matter. All that matters is the look of it, and the look of it is breath-takingly gorgeous.

It's the most visually stunning film I've seen in a while. It's like PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK in that sense, with haunting music, long floaty dresses and long floaty hair and fabulous scenery, but with added sex and vampirism.

The titular Valerie is a beautiful thirteen-year-old girl living in a tiny country village with her grandmother. She hasn't got a lot of dialogue and she doesn't do a whole lot besides be very easy on the eye while floating around in long dresses, catching the eye of various men who desperately want to de-virginize her.

These include a bespectacled young man she didn't know was her brother; a black-cloaked part-monster, part-churchman she was unaware is her father; and a lecherous priest who thinks a nice bit of rape will fill the lonely hours before bedtime.

It appears to be a matter of supreme indifference to all of them that the girl is only thirteen. Still, the film is set back in the days of Inquisitions and witch-burnings and churchmen in black wide-brimmed hats controlling what people do and think. That was a good few centuries ago now and seemingly people had different values and ideals back then.

I find Valerie's grandmother Elsa a much more interesting character than the narcissistic teenager who, not unnaturally, encourages most of the attention she receives. When she first appears out of nowhere, Elsa could be the ghost of a Victorian lady from a HAMMER HORROR film. Her long face is a chalky corpse-white, her eyes darkly shadowed and her grey hair coiled into a sleek bun at the back of her head.

She's still beautiful though and not that old, with magnificent bone-structure, elegant economical movements and a soft, controlled voice. Her white-gloved hands might entwine themselves piously around her rosary beads and prayer-book, but underneath her prim buttoned-up blouse beats the heart of a deeply sexual, sensual woman. A woman who would literally sell her soul to the devil to have her youth and beauty back again. Enter the monster-ish, black-cloaked sharply-fanged creature with the evil laugh whom they call The Constable...

There are scenes of lesbianism in the film too as Valerie sleeps with the drop-dead gorgeous Hedvika, a deeply unhappy young brunette bride whose rich but elderly farmer husband will never be able to satisfy her. Those scenes are arty and floaty in the extreme and you don't really see anything obscene, just lots of long dark hair and white dresses swirling around the place.

The Czech language is lyrical to listen to and the music is fantastic. It's an eclectic mix of Czech folk music, lullaby sounds, ticking clocks and carnival music and it adds so much to the film. The plot, as I think you've gathered, is a bit loosey-goosey to say the least but that's neither here nor there. The sequence of fascinating images coupled with the music is more than sufficient to thrill the viewer.

By the way, at one stage in the film Valerie gets more or less tongue-kissed by her own mother, which kind of puts the furore about Posh Spice's harmless little birthday smacker on her daughter Harper's lips earlier on this month into some kind of perspective...!

Valerie's grandmother and the black-cloaked 'monster' are without a doubt the best and most frightening characters. You'll also see a really cool crypt beneath Elsa's house and you'll encounter a pair of magical earrings, which may or may not float your collective boats.

I wonder what became of the girl who played Valerie. It's strange to think that she was showing her breasts in a horror film at an age when she should have been in school learning how to conjugate verbs and what-have-you. I hope it didn't have an adverse effect on her adult life...!

The film is of the genre known as Czech New Wave and it's a real little gem of an oddity which I'd never even heard of until I read about it in the IFI's HAUNTED LANDSCAPES brochure. You should definitely snatch it up if you come across it. It will blow your mind...

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

 You can contact Sandra at:


http://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com









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