Thursday, May 30, 2019

Your Terribly Friendly Vampire Neighbourhood

Living among vampires for any extended period must be disorientating. This is why it may only be partially accurate to call 1970's Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů) a surrealist film. Sure, a lot seems to be taking place on this girl's journey to sexual awakening that makes no literal sense. But it's all pieces of sense, as they might be rearranged by bored immortals. In any case, it's always fascinating and intensely beautiful.

Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerova) is the only inhabitant of a 19th century town who I'm pretty sure is not a vampire but nothing is perfectly clear or stable in this movie. This works out to be exhilarating for anyone used to interpreting symbolism who's willing to go along for a wild ride outside their comfort zone. There are plenty of symbols with meanings that seem clear to me--I like how Valerie is associated with green apples. As though to represent original sin but unripened due to her youth.

But there's always the appearance of teeth or white face paint to, in typical New Wave style given an in-story explanation, remind you that this is a show. When a priest (Jan Klusak) attempts to molest Valerie, the conventional critic will say, "Ah, an indictment of the church's sexual hypocrisy." But this "priest" has a strangely pale face. Is he in any sense really a priest? Is the priest molesting the girl just another game for the vampires, another arrangement of the musical chairs of superficial morality to provide some spice to sexual sport?

Somehow, amidst all these sinister shufflings of meaning, all these teasing exploitations of human culture and tradition, Valerie has to experience a perfectly innocent puberty. She doesn't seem all that frightened and only sometimes confused. Of course, a child might be amenable to all these games. And what's it to her if her father is a bishop who's also a polecat and a demon who's, like everyone else, trying to molest her and/or steal her earrings?

The movie would work well as a series of stills--every shot is so exquisitely composed, it's a consistent delight to behold. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is available on The Criterion Channel.

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