January 20, 2011

Valerie and her week of wonders

I always thought Czech art and literature was a chapter of its own. The movie "Valerie and her week of wonders" took everything to a whole new level. Imagine me sitting in front of my computer for 1 1/2 hours, mouth open, forehead wrinkly, a disturbed "wtf?" written on my lips, watching the weirdest, but most appealing, movie in quite a long time.

Based on the 1935 published novel by Vítězslav Nezval, it was turned into a movie in the 1970ies. The main character, Valerie, was played by then 13-year-old Jaroslava Schallerová. It is fascinating and disturbing at the same time, that a girl of that age could play a character so innocent, but so sensual. In some scenes the term "exploitation of minors" didn't leave my mind. I just thought it was wrong to show a girl that young without clothes or generally expose her to certain strong themes (remember, it was the 70ies!).

Valerie is a 14-year-old girl on the edge to adulthood. The movie starts with her wandering across the lawn, as suddenly blood drops fall down on a daisy on the ground. She picks the daisy and looks at the blood. This scene is meant to symbolise Valerie's first period and the starting point of a journey into puberty, that is full of confusion, fascination and disgust.

The girl lives with her grandmother, who is strictly catholic and isolates Valerie from everything she thinks is sinful, sensual or sexual. However, the grandmother has an affair with the local priest and wants to get back her youth as to stay attractive for him.
Valerie's parents are nowhere to be seen.

One day, Valerie points out a stranger, wearing a black cape, with pale white skin and pointy teeth, to her grandmother. The stranger covers his face with a weasel mask and keeps a servant, called "Orlik". Strangely, the grandmother seems to know the "creature".

Throughout the movie, this man turns into many different characters - he's supposed to be the bishop, Valerie's father, a guy called "Richard" the grandmother used to have an affair with, a monster, a vampire and the devil. He murders certain people, one of them the local priest, who tried to rape Valerie earlier on, and puts a vampiric spell on a young bride, that drains her life and transfers her youth to Valerie's grandmother, who has now turned into a younger, Vampire-Version of herself.

The main goal of the creature is, to seduce Valerie and take her innocence. Her "blood", as he says, will allow him to live forever.
Meanwhile she develops a complicated relationship with the vampire's servant, "Orlik", who turns out to be her brother. Watching them kiss is quite a disturbing experience, as they continue doing it when they already know they are related.

As the story goes on the creature keeps trying to "get" Valerie, but she keeps resisting and maintains her honor. In the end, Orlik kills the creature and turns to another girl during an orgiastic final scene, much like that scene in "Perfume", at least as confusing and exaggareted. Valerie wanders through this scene, watching other people as they try to get her involved, but instead ends up falling asleep in a white bed in the middle of the forest.

As already mentioned, it is a movie that leaves you behind with a lot of questions and confusion. There are scenes where people get killed and are reincarnated without explanation, persons play multiple characters, who then disappear.
The movie shows various people having intercourse, girls in a lake kissing and playing with a fish (!) and Valerie herself frees the young bride mentioned earlier from her spell by going to bed with her.
It is an unsettling movie, taking the disturbing incestuous relationship between brother and sister, the fact, that the protagonist is played by a kid and that she's exposed to a lot of (sometimes quite aggressive) sexual practices, but has a very distinctive fascination in it, only to be found in those mid-seventies surrealistic movies.

And no, you're not a pedophile pervert, if you're watching it. Just a little bit, maybe.