Made before Buffy and many other female heroines, Jaromil Jireš’ strange and whimsical film Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is an exercise in magical realism. It is also a horror movie, a coming of age story, a realization of innocence ending and a journey into fantasy. Despite its flaws Jireš manages to keep things together, molding elements into a unique whole. It also helps that the film has a strong performance from Jaroslava Schallerová as Valerie, a young girl trying to understand her place in the world and figure out where she came from. Her search for her parents is a trip down the rabbit hole into a world that may be mostly in her imagination. I prefer to read the film as literal just because its more fun, but also since doing so helps me further grasp what Jireš is trying to accomplish. I also viewed this film during my Horrorfest and was able to purchase it from Barnes and Noble thanks to their 50% off Criterion sale.
In fact this movie requires multiple viewings, something I have not yet accomplished despite owning the movie. Schallerová is sweet and kind as Valerie, never despairing even when she is handed over to be burned alive at the stake! There are other characters in this film that are either nice or creepy, and Valerie’s interactions with them determines the course of her journey. The movie does operate in the guise of a carnival, and there are hints that some of the people involved are actors or magical characters. Not to mention its strong fairy tale elements, as this movie can be classified as such and is also shot and scripted that way. One thing I was uncomfortable with is that the movie does have a young girl experiencing a sexual awakening, although I’m guessing that 1970s Europe had a less prudish reaction. Regardless this is a strong aspect of the film and cannot be ignored.
I’m not sure I got the ending, and I don’t know if I fully understood all that happened. Yet for some of its flaws (not all of the acting is well done, and I feel that some parts don’t work or fit) that this is a near great film from a director I want to see more from. As for the film’s extras I did not bother to explore them further, however the movie has a decent amount for a relatively obscure (at least to me and other Americans) 1970s Czechoslovakian film. Considering that I do not own enough foreign movies I’m glad that I added this one to my collection. One last thing: this movie is gloriously shot and has some amazing visuals. One cannot help but admire old school cinema, crafted before the days of digital.