in Shocktober

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

It may sound like an early ’70s porno, but Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is in, fact a surrealist drama from Czechoslovakia. I don’t think I can name one fact about Czechoslovakia. Not a single person or event tied to Czechoslovakia. Does it have something to do with the Czech Republic? I’m reading now that it became the “Czech Republic” and “Slovakia” in 1992? That makes a lot of sense. I wish this movie did.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders feels like an old fable or maybe a bedtime story you heard long ago but have since forgotten. That is if your parents liked to include vampires and partial nudity into their late night tales. The film concerns the coming of age of 13-year-old Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) who is coming to terms with becoming a woman, noticing the balance of relationships in her small village and doing battle with a vampire named “Polecat” aka “The Constable” (Jirí Prýmek), an eerie figure intent on stealing our heroine’s magical earrings.

This is the kind of film where you’re never 100% sure if what is happening is happening. “Did that guy really turn into a ferret?” “Are these actually vampires?” It all feels like a bunch of avant grade visuals and ideas fueled by vague metaphors about womanhood or sex or something. It’s only occasionally exciting and never scary, which makes its label as a horror film all the more confusing.

The Constable is our main source of dread and he’s pretty lame. He looks like Nosferatu’s dumb brother who never seems to get anything right. I find the scarier stuff to be a priest who sexually torments Valerie and a grandmother who whips herself into submission for the priest. I do appreciate the contrast in real-world horror to fantasy, much like Guillermo del Toro, but the fantasy is never weird enough to make the film feel like a bonafide thriller.

I did read that this film’s existence is miraculous considering it was right around this time that the Soviet Union started to suppress the kind of art present in the film. I don’t imagine they liked the underage nudity or blood. Though I think anyone could enjoy the film’s lush visuals and fairy tale score from Lubos Fisher. It may be a slow 73 minutes with little to keep you on the edge of your seat but it is darkly beautiful and a unique work from a unique place.

Sorry that I really pulled this one out of my ass.