Films That Haunt Me (Halloween edition): VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS

A companion piece to yesterday’s post about “The Bloody Chamber,” today’s film from the Czech Republic unearths old tales and weaves them into something fresh – something deeply sensual. In our efforts to modernize and darken fairy tales, we often forget what they were truly about: adolescence, immorality, and sexuality. This is epitomized in celluloid by VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS.

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This film plays out like a half-remembered dream, lifting elements from disparate fables to tell the story of young blossoming Valerie. When a mysterious and vampiric cloaked constable arrives in her town, bewitching those around her, Valerie begins a strange quest to free her town of this demon – awakening new things within herself along the way. With the help of a young man named Eagle (who loves her but is also her brother, don’t ask me), she sets out to defeat the man.

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Surreal and visual, this film does not rely on its plot – there is more focus placed on the imagery and themes. Valerie is caught in a bizarre environment where everyone is trying to seduce her. Her innocence is ours, and thus the world of the film is very confusing. But it’s completely entrancing as well. The scenes are filled with dazzling shots of water and leaves, dark castles and rich velvet, soft light and vivid colors. The horror comes in part from these visuals – the film is full of vampires, fangs and ghostly skin and all, lurking in shadowy recesses, prowling after young girls who are forced to outwit them.

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Trying to write about this film is like trying to bottle smoke. It dances in and out of memory, impossible to pin down. That’s partly what gives it its magic. Even within the story, it’s difficult to distinguish dream-time from actual event. Almost as if the film never actually played. That, in my opinion, is the true definition of a fantasy – and somehow, this film manages to transcend its medium to achieve that effect.

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Of course, this is arthouse – it won’t be for everyone. But for a purely visual, sensory fantasy, where nothing is real but everything is beautiful, nothing can beat “Valerie and her Week of Wonders.” Dazzled in sunshine and shadow, you will become a part of its dream.

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