Have you ever wished that a pale skinned amish boy with sideburns like a young John Lennon would climb down through the ceiling of your greenhouse, and steal your earrings while you’re sleeping? You have?! Then you should watch this movie. I’m not going to pretend I fully understand Valerie and her Week of Wonders, a Czech film released in 1970, and later picked up by the Criterion Collection. There were many WTFs uttered in the course of having watched it. But, the vampires, strange cloisters, suggestively incestuous-uncomfortable kisses, and dreamlike soundtrack are just a bonus from these opening scenes of the aforementioned lyre playing paramour.
This has got to be the most 70’s thing I have ever watched. I wish there were a good word to describe the aesthetic I’m talking about, but if it exists, I don’t know what it is. I can only explain what I mean by showing you some screenshots from this film. In addition to the music, the clothes, the film quality, and the look of the actors themselves, you also get little things like…
The iridescent color of these berries:
The sheen of brass coating on candlesticks, the rims of bowls, and other objects like this magnifying glass:
This drop of blood on a daisy:
Ridiculous amounts of lace:
This movie is a mesmerizing spectacle. Yes, it is really weird, and it has something of a “mobius plot” that wraps around on itself in an unnatural way, but these things are made up for in sheer surreal imagery. It’s the sort of movie you can’t look away from, even when you’re kind of confused. Rooted in the tradition of stories like Alice in Wonderland, it almost seems like that’s sort of the point. I have to assume that director Jaromil Jires merely had an idea that was something along the lines of “I want to make a vampire movie in which a young girl coming into her sexuality is accosted by supernatural figures, and I want a clergyman in black robes and white gloves to smile at her as he walks by in a marriage parade. Oh, and lets blur the lines between who is related and which characters are which, so when they kiss it’s incredibly confusing”. And the rest was just built around that concept.
There are some genuinely haunting scenes. In fact, the scenes are made disturbing precisely because of how the movie presents them in such a matter of fact way. It’s as if the horror of the film is somehow commonplace. Valerie approaches the vampires as if they’re something she’s seen many times before, and at other times she screams like a young damsel. Her ignorance feels nearly a show, at times. It’s a good thing the Beatle boot clad, amish boy, Eagle, is there to tell her what to do. And, who knows if he is even human. He seems to have a connection to the vampires in the film, and he might be her brother. But, maybe not. It’s a mystery. A pretty mystery.
There’s a lot being said here under the surface of spectacle. We see attractive blond “actors” (?) making love on a fallen tree, watched by a minister who is trapped behind the bars of an oversized, brass birdcage. One of the Vampire’s victims is a young woman who has just married a man many years her senior, and he seems not to be aware of the bloodletting that’s taking place while they consummate their union. And it’s never clear if that girl lives or becomes a vampire. She is merely seen as a vessel for what keeps the undead looking youthful. Valerie candidly confesses to her grandmother that she has lost her virginity, at a young age of 13, to which her grandmother tells her to stop wearing her silver bell earrings, which are later revealed to purportedly have the power of granting immortality. And the vampires seem to really want those earrings, in spite of technically being internally youthful themselves, as long as they feed. The big bad of the film, who might be a member of the clergy, Valerie’s father, or grandfather, or none of those things…is often juxtaposed against the image of a weasel, who I contend may have served as the inspiration for Lars von Trier’s fox in Antichrist, who mutters “chaos reigns”. The symbolism is laid on pretty thick in these and other scenes, and yet none of it is easy to grab onto on the surface. What’s clear is that Valerie’s navigation of a newly discovered sexual world is fraught with danger and the threat of her own mortality.
The film beckons a second viewing. One the bright side, watching Valerie and her Week of Wonders is a pleasing experience.