VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS

   

The following article was published in N-SPHERE October 2011 issue.

 

I. The Czechoslovak New Wave

The Czechoslovak New Wave was an artistic movement in cinema that pretty much covered the early 60s and was represented, among others by directors such as: Miloš Forman, Jiří Menzel, Vera Chytilová, Jaromil Jireš and Juraj Herz.

However , its roots go 4 decades back when Devětsil – an association of Czech Avantgardists was formed (Prague, 1920).

When the Communist regime has taken over in Czechoslovakia in 1948, students of FAMU (Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts In Prague) took notice of the unwelcoming changes that this regime brought and wanted to make people aware that “they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all”.

Having said that, it is easy to hint that some its trademarks were long unscripted dialogues, dark and absurd humour and topics that regard the misguided youths of their society, or the misguided ethic which leads people to blindly condemn what others are born with (and I am not talking about rage, violence, greed, or other things that one should overcome).

II.   Valerie

“Valerie and her week of wonders” is one falling mostly in the latter category. On the surface, the film is a surreal fantasy revolving around a young girl’s maturation into womanhood. Beyond that, the film can also be seen as a violent and cheerful reaction against the way some systems may deprive people of what they really are. And while this is not depicted in a traditional fashion, there are enough scenes/pieces of dialogue clearly suggesting that.

For example:

Grandmother: Hedvika is marrying
Valerie: Poor Hedvika

The marriage here is not seen as an act that is consented by both parties, but as something that is enforced, as a form of mutilation inflicted upon a woman so that she, in turn, can inflict it on others. A form of sustained and organized disease, if you may. One can think of arranged marriages of enforced submission or other related things.

As many may expect, church figures are not left out of the equation either. Priests here, and men generally, are either barbaric figures, either hypocritical ones with an edge for incest.

Also, another aspect that is not to be neglected is the erotic one. But where other movies, use a more organic approach, relying on what we know and have experienced, “Valerie and her week of wonders” devoids its eroticism of nearly every carnal aspect and while flesh is still present, it is undermined by emotion. The film barely looks erotic, but feels erotic. There are some scenes that may stir anger in those who feel strong about old-fashioned ethical values, but because they are born out of the purest imaginings, they cannot really be held as an affront to… anything. Besides, those very scenes, form a reaction to a system that is overly concerned with numbers and empty standards instead of human beings (I figure that the New Wave Of Czechoslovak Film members were aware of it, and were pretty much against it.)

Indeed, one can argue that the film suffers from submitting to a struggle that ended too long ago, for the viewer to relate to it. After all, these days, in the majority of countries, the old-fashioned moral concerns are no longer upheld in such an oppressive manner, so one is free to choose living his life the way he or she wants as long as he/she is not harming others (‘course, if you decide to go on a killing spree to have some fun, you’ll still have to suffer the consequences). And, in this favor, it is the no-small-aspect that the film plays more like a “dream tale”, so there is not a strong relationship between all characters and not a very well-developed plot either. However, if there was one thing to learn from the evident failure of totalitarian systems, is that there are not many things that can be applied to everyone and sometimes even some things, apply to very few people. And as long as they are not harmful in a relevant way (I am pretty sure that a child won’t end up being traumatized by this film and he won’t start killing priests because he’ll assume all of them are pedophiles), I don’t see any problem.

Cinema is not a big popularity contest, but a form of communication, in the end. If you wanna appear on TV, you will definitely need a certain type of speech (sadly, in some of the cases, one you won’t be quite fond of), but regardless of how much money this speech brings you, it doesn’t mean that it holds some depths or truth and it definitely doesn’t make it better (sometimes not worse either) that the one some country teacher is holding to his pupils.

Art doesn’t offer guarantees, you are not better or worse if you read a critically acclaimed novel, or went to some opera or watched a more “special” movie. Artists are not responsible for your well-being, you are.

I said all these things, because they are surprisingly related to the movement, because if we are to look beyond that, it is not Communism itself, but the forced marriage between an individual and a foreign set of conventions he either does not understand, or does not believe in. When something like this happens, one is entitled to backfire in some fashion, not for his pride’s sake, or to prove that the system “is wrong”, but to prove that others are equally deserving of what feels right to them (again, as long as it is not firebombing, businesses that sell drugs to children or encourage people to blindly rage against others and so forth).

There is also a constant sense of menace in this film, but it never unravels a real horror, it is also seen through a child’s eyes – a child playing. There are no real dangers here, because there is a distance between the protagonist and the world unraveling before her eyes. She can always escape every peril.

III. Other Notes

Valerie’s faithful companion is Orlík – “Eagle”, In translation. He is the one who stole her earrings, only to give them back to her (the earrings made Valerie see the world as it is) and also, he is the one who gives her the pearls that protected her from… death.

There are no physically elder women in this film. It is only the appearance, that pale face which gives old age a specific meaning – that of being drained out of energy, of life.

There is also the presence of the vampire, as the one who drains, and makes others drain. These two combined give the idea that this oldness is in fact the marriage with the material, the artificial, with the blind desire to consume and make others consume (in the “incest scene”, the reverend’s face is pale as well.).

***

All in all, the film appeals mostly to those with a sweet eye for avant-garde stuff (“Sedmikrásky”, anyone) or for those who like to have a fantasy story told in an eerie way. For the rest, it may be a challenge, it may be a bore, or anything else in between.

Sweet Valeries, children.

Photo | Valerie and her Week of Wonders. 1970

by Shade

Full article here.