Blu-Ray Review: Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (Criterion) | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Studio: Criterion

Jun 26, 2015 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Loaded with unforgettable visuals, most frames of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders could pass as Hipgnosis album art. The 1970 feature by Czech director Jaromil Jireš strikes many of the same chords as the British art studio’s most famous imagery, from their shot of a provocative burning businessman on Wish You Were Here to the pervy-yet-visionary nude youth of Houses of the Holy.

In the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, Prague directors produced several of cinema’s most strikingly surreal pieces—this generation of filmmakers also gave us Jan Svankmajer and Vera Chytilova—and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is arguably one of the period’s strangest. On its surface level, Week of Wonders seems to symbolize young Valerie’s coming of age. It’s difficult to stick squarely with any one theory, however, as over the film’s brief 76 minute-runtime it introduces all sorts of crazy elements, from vampires and shapeshifting weasels to magical jewelry. Here’s an (absurdly truncated) attempt to sum up the plot: Valerie lives with her grandmother, and is in love with a boy named Eaglet, who may or may not be her brother. A monster comes to town—bald-headed, pale-skinned, with decaying, shark-like teeth—who may or may not be her father. Her grandmother sells her house to the monster in exchange for youth, and a lecherous priest is hanged and -– bah, the oddities continue from there. Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is packed with religious and sexually-loaded characters and settings, and trying to find specific meaning in any of it is a laborious undertaking. (With its monsters and boogeymen, Valerie sometimes feels like a lyrical horror film until you realize that it’s not particularly scary.) It’s best to relax and take in each gorgeously-composed frame and let the weirdness wash over you; chances are by the time you watch Valerie—tied to a stake—thumb her nose at a crowd gathered to watch her burn, the question on your mind will be “What the heck am I seeing?” rather than “What the heck does it mean?” Viewers willing to just accept Valerie’s beautiful surrealism will probably feel their time was better rewarded than those who will need to have it all figured out.

Criterion’s Blu-ray edition is a major upgrade over the comparably dull transfer on Facets’ old DVD. Three of the director’s early short films are included, as are context-enriching interviews with the film’s stars and Czech cinema scholar Peter Hames. The highlight of this release is the inclusion of an alternate score by The Valerie Project: formed by Espers’ Greg Weeks in 2006, the group’s ten members came together specifically to create a new soundtrack for this obscure Czech movie. They performed their feature-length composition only a few times in conjunction with screenings—most notably at the MOMA and the Jarvis Cocker-curated Meltdown festival in 2007—before going their separate ways. Though the score was made available through Drag City and the film had a previous DVD release, anyone who has ever arranged a home viewing of “Dark Side of the Rainbow” is aware of how much of a pain in the ass it can be to sync video and vinyl. Criterion puts this film-music pairing at viewers’ fingertips; The Valerie Project’s druggy, freak folk score matches the movie exquisitely, and totally changes the viewing experience. Fans of the film will want to revisit it immediately to try out this alternate take.

Author rating: 7.5/10

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