I'd heard a lot of great stuff about the Czech film "Valerie and Her Week of Wonders" over the past couple of years from all the right sources. As I think I've stated here before, I get really leery when I hear words like "unsung classic" being bandied about, having been disappointed too many times. In this case, I've got to say that the reviewers I admire were correct--"Valerie" is an absolutely stunning film, so visually rich and dense with potential meaning that a single blog post can't really do it justice. Every frame of this movie could be a surrealist painting, and by the time its hour-and-fifteen minute run-time is up, it's as if one is awakening from a beautiful dream whose importance hovers just out of reach of concrete understanding.
The film tells the story of a young woman's blossoming sexuality told through totemic/pagan symbolism. Strange things begin happening to 13-year-old Valerie after the onset of her period, with a pair of mystical and covetousness-inducing pearl earrings serving as the central metaphor for her virginity, simultaneously throwing our heroine into danger while helping to save her from the very jaws of doom multiple times throughout the film. Valerie's safety is threatened by the Nosferatu-like Weasel, who (in typical fairy-tale logic) is a Bishop, a vampire, and Valerie's father. The Weasel vampirizes Valerie's grandmother, whose youth is restored in spectacular fashion--vamp-Granny is a sharp-featured fashionista who deserves a post devoted entirely to her breathtaking outfits (girlfriend makes jodhpurs WORK, lemme tell you). This movie has some serious nightmare-fodder in the form of the Weasel, who gives Graf Orlok a run for his money in the creepy vampiric ghoul department with crooked teeth, blacker-than-black cloak and pointed ears serving as a gooseflesh-inducing image of evil.
Sex is dealt with candidly without ever veering into luridness--there's no doubt that the vampires are after more than just Valerie's lifeblood, and the very young actress (Jaroslava Schallerová, who was thirteen at the time of filming) is shown learning the power of her erotic allure. Her beauty is mesmerizing and delicate, and there were times at which I had an almost-visceral sense of wanting to protect the young girl from the horrors looming large around her.
Like the surrealist painters, sex is discussed with the use of heavy symbolism that blends the beauty of sex with an acknowledgement of the animal nature of the act and a strong undercurrent of neurotic horror. This movie is a psychoanalyst's wet dream, providing rich soil in which Jungians and Freudians can mud-wrestle to their hearts' content. Is the story a cautionary tale against the dangers of physical love, or an indictment of societal pressures that feed off young people?
Honestly, this movie needs to be seen in order to be appreciated--detailing the plot-line and the occurrences makes it seem risque and horror-themed, but that's not the purpose, and it diminishes the film's emotional resonance.