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Excellent Beauty: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

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“Where am I? I am sleeping and only dreaming all of this.”

I recently saw Valerie and her Week of Wonders, a unique and wonderful 1970 Czech film by Jaromil Jires. Surreal, in the original sense of the word (“as beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella”), the movie appears to take place inside the dreams of a young woman just entering puberty.

The young heroine, radiantly portrayed by 13 year-old Jaroslava Schallerova, encounters vampires, lecherous priests, a young man who may be her lover or may be her brother, magical talismans and long-lost parents.. The movie proceeds with the logic of a dream. Characters die and return and transform from one person to another; relationships and locations shift without warning; all with no attempt at explanation.

Sometimes Valerie watches the action from hidden recesses, as if observing for the first time the secret world of adults; sometime she is pulled into the action. She faces dangerous situations and discovers dark truths about her past, though facts seem to shift and transmute as soon as she uncovers them.

Human-made edifices, old and decaying, contrast with idyllic scenes of nature. Exuberant sensuality contrast with selfish, predatory lusts.

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Full of arresting, astonishing images, there is a wonderful magic to the film. The special effects are accomplished with the simplest edits, giving them an eerie power exactly because of their simplicity. Its ending is truly sublime, as Valerie seems to rise above her trials to find a moment of inner strength and bemused detachment, in the light of a warm and sunny day.

Criterion has just released a new edition of the film on Blu-ray, which means it’s also available from streaming on Huluplus. Check it out!

Valerie and her Week of Wonders on Criterion Blu-ray and DVD

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders on Huluplus

Taking its name from Frances Bacon (“There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion.”) Excellent Beauty is an ongoing series about films and filmmakers whose style falls outside of mainstream tradition. It’s a celebration of the quirky and refreshing, works that remind us that the art of filmmaking can be as vast and varied as the human experience, beyond the restricted styles, themes, and ethics offered by most mainstream films.