valerie and her week of wonders (1970)
Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is the finest of subconscious cinema, a film where the inherent emotive logic is so palpable, we forgo development of the events in favor of diving ever-deeper. Jaromil Jires' cinematic dreamscape is a vivid depiction, and even explanation, of the human obsession throughout time for the virginal, prepubescent form (especially female). As Valerie enters puberty, all those around her shape-shift into monsters and vampires with insatiable desires so strong that they lose all logical faculties in their pursuit and become inhuman. The desires that awaken during this transgression transform the people in the film irreversibly, and Valerie's horror at her own transformation subsides as she begins to become like them. The male figures of course, never transform back into what they were before the desire was planted. The women, in their post-menopause, continuously yearn to get it back, they associated it with life. This is what Valerie discovers during her week of wonders, the desire, and that the desire is life to those inexplicable adults all around her. In the phantasmagoria of the film, Valerie comes to terms with this for the first time, and we are led along through a fantasy/horror balanced with verve. When Jires realizes the film is becoming a horror, he will suddenly shift into beauty, fantasy and then back again, always painting the picture of the ever-transforming Valerie.
Jires also finds the internal struggle and lays it bare in vivid visual detail. The desire so strong it overwhelms the individual, their lust to feel it, and their subsequent remorse at having given in. Valerie sees this as a never-ending vicious cycle of adulthood. Jires leaves his tale largely absent any peer with which Valerie could confide or find solace in, she seems surrounded only by family members who maybe her savior, or simply another deceitful desire-filled entity drawing her in to a deal with the devil. The male figures of the Polecat and Eaglet, one a lustful demon and the other her knight in shining armor (and she, his) may or may not be incestuously desiring her as it is referenced over and over that they are her father and brother respectively. Nothing is as it seems in this picture and so no character's word can be trusted, except our Valerie, who faces the horrors with a number of enchanted objects to pull her from danger when needed. The film is able to freely and readily deal with a wide array of taboo, but nonetheless lingering on the fringes of the human mind, concepts as well as untether itself to narrative obligation so that thematic exploration becomes all that is pressing. At any point when the film progresses into a corner of sorts, the thread is merely dropped (or Valerie uses one of her enchanted objects) and we're off into more interesting territory. The imagery in the film is as pleasing as it is terrifying, as uncomfortable as it is satisfying, Valerie often changing from frightened child to apple-chomping sprite from one scene to the next. It is the constantly morphing world that rings so awfully true in this film, that not one character can be trusted or believed, that at the same moment when a grandmother provides all of the hope and guidance she will ever know, that same person is overcome by their own desires, forgets qucikly about Valerie and plunges into her own fulfillment. The nightmare is a hedonistic landscape which spouts morals to gain superiority in the town square or the public court or in everyday conversation, yet lives by none of its code, only the fulfillment of a desire implanted during puberty, from which the individual will never return. Jires communicates all of this with beauty and imagery straight out of our deepest mind. The character of the polecat is at once a mythological vermin, father, man of the law (constable) and in some cases the devil himself. It is to Jires credit that he does not attempt to separate them into separate actors, as the constantly shifting character-types with the same face and wildly different demeanors serves the surreal nature of the piece. Valerie eventually seems to understand and come to join the vast parade of strange debauchery and puritan ideals by the end of it, yet maintains an element of realization. She has gotten to serve as observer just as much as player and cheated death a number of times, after all.
Jires greatest strength is that the film never attempts a delineation into realism in any way, there is no point at which Valerie departs her plane of existence and returns, which works greatly to its immersive advantage. As we float through his imagery as Valerie floats through the waters of the fountain in the village square, there is magic to its hypnotic calling. The macabre underground mausoleums with their spider webs, dust and coffins, the fields of tall grass and warm sun and of course multiple interior words with white sheets and sheer curtains that envelope Valerie as she hides from the darkest elements. Time and time again Jires recurs instances to show their falsity, like much of Eaglet's communications coming from letters with little proof that he wrote them. We swim in such deep waters in this film fantasy that it becomes difficult to pinpoint precisely where we've gone where all is said and done, only that we've lived deeply within the dark parts of the mind for the entirety of our film's duration, that we've never experienced the dive or returned to the surface by the conclusion, we've lived in the deep. Jires wraps us in the feeling of change that every human has experienced, the change we will never recover from, the change that we will live in for our entire lives. How can we separate our internal experience of consciousness from the chemicals in our brains and bodies that influence them. It's one of the mysteries of human experience and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders dances with it as no film ever has or ever will. We see the life we know, and the life we've only known in our mind dancing together in a cinema of brilliant color and sharp imagery.