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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
Second Run // Unrated // August 25, 2008 // Region 0 // PAL
List Price: £12.99 [Buy now and save at I-pay]
Review by Chris Neilson | posted January 15, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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Released two years after Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the political liberalizations of '68, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Valerie a týden divů) was a retreat from the overtly political filmmaking of Jaromil Jireš' prior film The Joke (Zert) into obscurant gothic-surrealism.

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is an expressionist fantasy presented from the viewpoint of the 13-year-old titular protagonist, played by the age-appropriate Jaroslava Schallerová in her first leading role. Separating Valerie's fantasy world from her ordinary life isn't entirely possible, but the essential facts seem to be these: At the turn of the 20th Century, Valerie lives alone with her grandmother in a provincial Czech town. During the week in question, a troupe of actors arrive, as do a group of missionaries, but the most important event for the young protagonist is the arrival of her first menstruation, accompanied by a sexual awakening.

From these particulars, Valerie weaves an elaborate daydream. The menstrual blood of her real world gives birth to an erotic vampire chronicle that sweeps up her grandmother and the actors and missionaries as participants. In her daydream, Valerie is an object of desire for her youthful vitality and virginal beauty. She is protected by a supernatural talisman, and frequently saves and is saved by a young man (Petr Kopřiva), who is variously a boyfriend or brother to her. In Valerie's fantasy, her grandmother (Helena Anyžková) is revealed actually to be variously her missing mother or a minor vampire enthralled to a Nosferatu-like master vampire (Jiří Prýmek & Martin Wielgus), who is also variously Valerie's long-absent father or a lecherous missionary.

Though Valerie's tale includes vampires and malicious men, it's grounded in daydream fantasy, not nightmare horror. Valerie is often the object of desire by bloodsucking vampires and libidinal men and women, but the dangers she faces always feel removed. Even when she's tied to the stake on a burning pyre she has but to wish it and she's teleported elsewhere. Thus, Valerie is free to explore her fantasies with impunity, pursued but never terrorized.

Presentation
Before receiving a VHS release in the United States and the UK in the early 1990's, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders was one of those elusive midnight movies that many wanted to see, but few actually had. Now though thanks to DVD releases in the US, UK, Japan, and the Czech Republic, there's an embarrassment of riches with five DVD releases now in print. The best of the lot is from the UK-based label, Second Run.

Video:
Sourced from a newly-restored 35mm Czech Archives print, Second Run's release of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders looks better than it ever has for the home video market. The source print suffers from light damage, especially during the first reel, but overall looks very good for its age. The image is sometimes slightly soft, but this only heightens the dreamlike qualities of the material. Colors are good with only negligible fading in a few spots.

Audio:
The restored monaural Czech language track is delightful, providing good fidelity to the film's soundtrack and dialogue. The optional English subtitles are well translated and appropriately sized, paced and placed.

Extras:
The extras include an 18-page booklet with essays from Peter Hames and Joseph A. Gervasi; a trailer for the Second Run DVD (2:28); a 2006 interview with Jaroslava Schallerová who played Valerie in Czech with forced English subtitles in which she recounts her memories of the shoot (5:47); and a video introduction by film historian Michael Brooke (20 min).

Final Thoughts:
Czech-surrealist, Alice-in-Wonderland, vampire erotica is one way to summarize Valerie and Her Week of Wonders. Although it may hold little appeal for viewers not favorably predisposed toward the psychotronic, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a sweet treat for cult film fans.

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