For many college students, their freshman year is an incredibly transformative era of their lives. College grants students freedom they were never given in high school, so one must learn how to navigate the real world for the first time. Going through such a change can be very difficult, which is why coming-of-age films such as “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” are so important.
The Czechoslovak New Wave was an incredibly influential movement in cinema throughout the 1960s and early 1970s. During this time, there were changes in leadership which resulted in a series of cultural and political reforms, like abolishing censorship. This led to the creation of truly unique and experimental films in Czechoslovakia.
One of the films created in the Czech New Wave was “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders,” a 1970 surrealist horror film directed by Jaromil Jireš. It is based on a novel of the same name, written by Vitĕzslav Nezval in 1935. I can truthfully say that this is one of the strangest, yet most beautiful films I’ve ever seen.
This film tells the story of Valerie, a Czechoskovakian 13-year-old played by Jaroslava Schallerová. We witness Valerie’s life as she blossoms into womanhood. When the film begins, Valerie is sleeping in a greenhouse when a thief sneaks in and steals her pearl earrings. The earrings are magical, and they consistently protect Valerie as she encounters danger. Even Valerie’s grandmother, her caretaker, poses a threat to her livelihood.
One day, Valerie’s grandmother vanishes under mysterious circumstances and is replaced by her “aunt.” As she matures, she experiences many disturbing situations with her family, people in positions of authority, and various townspeople. She begins to view the world differently, which is demonstrated by the wonderful cinematography.
Because the film features a non-linear plot that is delivered at such a quick pace, it is difficult to understand what is happening. However, this shouldn’t deter someone from watching it, as the picturesque camera shots are enough to make the film enjoyable. The soft-focus, overexposed appearance combined with the ethereal costume and set design creates an image in the viewer’s mind similar to a disorienting nightmare.
There is a plethora of symbolism in this film. For example, pearls, daisies, birds, blood and the color white are shown throughout. Along with the salient feminine themes, they work together to symbolize female sexuality and purity. The film constantly crosses the line between dreams and reality, which urges the audience to question their own awareness. Because “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders” is filmed in Czech, the English translation may produce its own confusions.
Although this film focuses on the tribulations of female maturity, many scenes are captured with a male gaze. Along with this, Valerie is placed in very uncomfortable positions, which causes the audience to feel uncomfortable as well. There are multiple incidences of graphic animal harm, so this film isn’t for the easily distressed.
If you’re tired of cheesy Blockbusters and are looking for an obscure fairytale-like film that features vampires, witchcraft and corrupt clergy, I recommend watching “Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.” It is truly something you have to experience firsthand to understand.
Opinion writer Ruby Chapdelaine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org