Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

  • Reviewed by: Tim Salmons
  • Review Date: Jul 27, 2015
  • Format: Blu-ray Disc
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Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Director

Jaromil Jileš

Release Date(s)

1970 (June 20, 2015)

Studio(s)

Janus Films/State Cinematography Fund via Ateliéry Bonton Zlín a.s. (Criterion - Spine #761)
  • Film/Program Grade: A-
  • Video Grade: A+
  • Audio Grade: A+
  • Extras Grade: A+

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Blu-ray Disc)

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Review

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů) is a Czechoslovakian film from 1970 directed by Jaromil Jireš. Based upon the 1932 novel of the same name by Czech writer Vítězslav Nezval, the film tells the story of a young girl entering into womanhood through a surrealistic fairy tale lens. Her overbearing grandmother, less than savory priests, local townsfolk, and even vampires make this transition for her an oddly whimsical one as she explores the many facets of a fantastical and dream-like world.

Although it has the appearance of a horror film from the presence of vampires in it, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders doesn’t quite deserve that moniker. It’s also not a completely fantastical film either. It deals with subject matter that every woman can relate to, but through this particular filter, things can be sinister yet wondrous. It’s also far from an abstract film, yet at the same time, there’s a certain amount of flight and fancy to it. Once our young star’s cycle begins for the first time, reality and fantasy begin to float in and out of each other, and we’re never quite sure what’s actually taking place at any given time. It can be flat out hallucinatory, but at other times it can appear relatively straightforward.

The film is also more about discovery than destination. There is no clear-cut narrative, or even a definition for the different images and sensations seen and felt throughout. Its power lies in not knowing what lies ahead, which is exactly what our young lady is feeling. We see things through her eyes and each new experience is different than the next. And the titillation of Valerie feels more honest than perverted. She is, indeed, a very young actress (13 at the time of production), and following her on her journey as those around her sexualize her never feels as if it was done with the intention of being overtly salacious.

Although it might be blindly confusing to many, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a work with intentional whimsy put into it. It’s an art piece with the purpose of evoking responses and ideas in its viewers. It may not be as surreal as perhaps a Jodorowsky film, but nonetheless, it’s still a mystery without any clear answers other than what you get out of it personally. Besides the lead actresses (Jaroslava Schallerová, Helena Anýžová) giving terrific performances, it’s also a beautifully-photographed film, utilizing a very lush color palette in a world full of fantasy.

But no matter what your reaction to the film is, there’s no doubt that Criterion’s Blu-ray release of the film features a top-notch video presentation. Recently restored digitally in 4K, the results speak for themselves. It’s a very organic-looking presentation, with a strong grain field and amazing image depth and clarity. Colors are robust, while black levels are impressive with nice shadow details. Contrast levels are a tad off from time to time, particularly during outdoor scenes, but overall, it’s extremely satisfactory. Obviously, there are no signs of digital enhancement, but some minor film defects have been left behind that no way intrude or distract. The film’s soundtrack is presented in the original Czech mono, uncompressed with English subtitles. This is a very rewarding single channel soundtrack. The sound is always so rich with very clear dialogue and score, the latter of which benefits greatly. Sound effects are also impressive, and at times enveloping. There are no major distortions of any kind to be heard, and despite its age, it’s a very clean and pleasing soundtrack overall.

For the supplements, the three major additions are three short films by Jaromil Jireš that also have been fully-restored: UncleFootprints, and The Hall of Lost Footsteps. You can expect the same kind of picture and sound quality as the main presentation. Additionally, there’s the Resurrecting the Avant-Garde interview with Czechoslovak film historian Peter Hames about the film; an interview with actress Jaroslava Schallerová; an interview with actor Jan Klusák; a famous alternate psych-folk soundtrack to the film by The Valerie Project from 2007; a video piece about the alternate soundtrack’s music’s origins; and a fold-out paper insert with an essay on the film by critic Jana Prikryl.

Criterion’s treatment of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is sure to please long-time fans of the film, as well as newcomers. It was always a film that was difficult to track down, and now can be easily obtained. The experience of it will certainly differ from viewer to viewer, but it’s an experience definitely worth your time.

- Tim Salmons

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