Monday, 2 January 2012
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders - A film by Jaromil Jireš
Written in 1935 at the height of Czech Surrealism but not published until 1945, Vitezslav Nezval's Valerie a týden divů, better known as Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, is a bizarre erotic fantasy of a young girl's maturation into womanhood on the night of her first menstruation.
Referencing Matthew Lewis's The Monk, Marquis de Sade's Justine, K. H. Macha's May, F. W. Murnau's film Nosferatu, Nezval employs the language of the pulp serial novel to construct a lyrical, menacing dream of sexual awakening involving a vampire with an insatiable appetite for chicken blood, changelings, lecherous priests, a malicious grandmother, and an androgynous merging of brother with sister.
Imaginary Penguin paperback: Gregory Boerum.
Jaromil Jireš' Valerie a týden divů, better know as Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, (Czechoslovakia, 1970) is one of those haunting, dream-like films that once seen is difficult to forget. The sexual awakening of adolescent Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) provides the major theme, ornately rendered as a symbol-soaked gothic fairytale. Elements drawn from the horror genre operate in conjunction with the type of gentle soft-core art imagery that can be found in other European sexual initiation films of the 1970s, such as Emmanuelle (1974), Bilitis (1977) and The Story of O (Histoire d'O, 1975).
One of the seductive attractions of Valerie a týden divů is its magical trance-inducing quality.
The carefully-crafted sets, the hypnotic harpsichord, flute and choir-based music, and the predominance of thematically significant white in the colour co-ordinated palette all add to the film's particular audio-visual ambience of artifice.
In addition to the use of elliptical editing, the crystalline quality of the photography is simply stunning, capturing in some scenes the beauty of early summer light sparkling on water and illuminating the pastoral landscape, which is set against dark, decaying, cobweb-strewn crypts.
The film bears some resemblance in stylistic terms to the East German fairytale films made by DEFA (such as The Singing Ringing Tree [Der Singende, klingende Bäumchen, 1957]), sharing the use of fantastic, almost surrealist imagery.
That the film makes the sexual subtext of many fairytales overt in transgressive terms is perhaps what attracted UK-based Redemption, a company that specialises in sexploitation and horror films, to release the film on video in 1994. With its non-linear story structure and characters that transform in the blink of an eye, Valerie a týden divů twists and turns much in the irrational manner of a dream. Events unfold from Valerie's subjective point of view, beginning when her brother (if he really is her brother) steals the pearl earrings she inherited from her apparently dead mother. The theft coincides significantly with the onset of her first period.
From then on, Valerie is plunged into the strange world of adult desire, with its terrible and intriguing secrets.
Valerie's burgeoning sensuality is established in the opening credits: the camera lingers with fetishistic fascination on her mouth, face and hair.
Variously, she tastes the bright water bubbling from a fountain, eats ripe cherries, nestles a dove against her chest and drinks in the scent of a bunch of small, white, wild flowers.
Everything in Valerie's world becomes full of wonder, which she experiences in an invigorated and heightened manner. Like the heroines of pre-sanitised fairytales, she faces all the mysteries that come her way boldly and with wide-eyed curiosity.
Tailing the opening sequence is Valerie's contemplation of her bell-like earrings, which carry magical powers. While there are many enigmas in the film, the earrings seem somehow key to the events which follow.
Their symbolic significance is underlined early on, as the aural motif that represents them (a series of sing-songy notes played on the glockenspiel) also accompanies the fall of a few drops of Valerie's first menstrual blood onto a daisy. The earrings have a central place in the film's "family romance." Valerie's white-haired, smooth-faced grandmother tells her to get rid of them, as they are a danger to her; she claims to have bought them from the vampire-priest-constable who acts—albeit slightly ambiguously—as the villain of the film (and who may or may not be Valerie's father)... Tanya Krzywinska.
Finders Keepers make musical history once again with what they regard as their very finest, darkest and most magnificent hour as they release Lubos Fiser's delicately haunting and sacred score to Jaromil Jires' essential Eastern European hallucinogenic-baroque-witch-flick 'Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders'.
It has taken Andy Votel almost 12 years to finally get his grubby vinyl-magnetic mits on the original studio recordings of this previously unreleased score. A futile decade of Eastern European phone calls, continental crate digging and eventually wicked web scouring confirmed that like most Czechoslovakian film scores 'Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders' never benefited from a commercial vinyl release and was condemned to a life imprisoned in the vaults of the original film production company sheltered from political duress and controversy for ever more... until now.
“Joseph Gervasi and I had been talking about doing a synergistic film/music project for some time, and both of us brought up Valerie. it so happened that Joseph owned a 16mm print of the film. I was blown away by its dreamlike imagery, old-world purity, psychedelic candor and mesmerizing soundtrack”.
Greg Weeks (of Espers) is describing the genesis of a new musical review entitled The Valerie Project. Inspired by a classic of Czech new wave cinema, Jaromir Jires’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970), Greg, joined by members of Espers and other philadelphia groups such as Fern Knight, Grass, Fursaxa, Timesbold, Woodwose and Rake (as well as enigmatic electronicist Charles Cohen), conceived a new soundtrack to the film. Key to The Valerie Project’s conception is how reframing the film’s action with an alternate soundtrack draws new interpretations from a work of depth and changeable meaning.
Lubos Fiser’s original score is lovingly recalled and ambitiously targeted by the group as a sound cycle to be equaled every time they play it. The tone is dense and ornate, expansively acid-charged — “a symphonic version of magma” at its zenith.
Further information here, here and here.