Valerie and her Week of Wonders, set in the early nineteenth century, was based on a novel by Vítězslav Nezval and released in 1970. It is a poignant nightmarish fantasia, a dreamlike fairy tale populated with vampires, uncertain parentage, transformations from one state to another, grisly violence and lurid sexuality in a Gothic style concerning the onset of menstruation and the sexual awakening of a thirteen year old girl.
During the dark days behind the iron curtain, Czech director Jaromil Jireš, main figure of the Czechoslovak New Wave, turned to fairytale surrealism and Freudian symbolism for a study of burgeoning youth. The childlike but chilling tale is accentuated by the eerie chamber music of Luboš Fišer.
Fišer’s score carries a pastoralism which gives weight to the folky dreamscape in which Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) freely interacts with the characters of her dreams. The continually shifting sounds encompasses tinkling music box circularity, jaunty folk melodies, and haunting religious choral hymns. This mix of disparate musical moods and sources mirrors the film’s uneasy blend of fantasy with a child’s eye view on reality.
With its striking surrealist imagery, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a haunting, magical film, a film alive with a sense of forbidden sexuality and transformation. It’s a deeply strange film, constantly subverting narrative clarity and demanding that its images be taken as metaphors rather than at face value.