Valerie and her Week of Wonders Jaromil Jires (Cz; 1970) Jaroslava Schallerova, Helena Anyzove, Petr Kopriva, Jiri Prymak
viewed Star and Shadow Cinema 26 Sept 2021; ticket: £7.00
Jaromil Jires’ ‘Valerie’ is film as delerium. Film that knows no form other than the prerogative of its own chosen logic: the dream vision. It’s film as a flowing medium alive and excitable captured in crystalline light, in the immediacy of water and the cascading locks of young girls hair. Film as an outpouring of sensuality tactility and burgeoning physicality mediated through the character of the menstruating becoming young woman, Valerie. The effect of Jires’ movie is that the audience don’t so much look at the worlds Valerie enters but rather they are absorbed into their translucent tracery, enveloped in their immanence.
‘Valerie’ shares some common ground with Carroll’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Both works feature young women who by force of unexpected events enter into adjacent contrary worlds whose familiar aspects belie the fact that nothing is what it seems. As in Alice, so in ‘Valerie’, it is not plot that is important; rather the idea of movement, the ability to keep on travelling through, even surviving, encounters with sets of menacing and ever stranger circumstances and situations. Although finding occasional allies both young women ultimately come through by relying on their own psychic resources which include an understanding of the power of their own bodies and a grounded intelligence that is flexible enough to adapt to the immediacy of particular demands. The imaginative vistas through which the two travellers move are quite different. Alice’s’ journey is through the convoluted logic of mathematical dimensionalities; Valerie moves through the heightened physicality of the dream with its orgasmic visions and vampire blood centred logic. Both Alice and Valerie are archetypal embodiments of female types: centred in their physicality and able to use intuition logic and reason to move through any world on their own terms.
Carroll’s work was written as a benign caricature rather than a satire of Victorian England’s moral sensibilities; Jires’ ‘Valerie’ based on the novel by Vieteslav Nezval, evokes a trenchant anti-clericalism reminiscent of Bunuel. Jires’ film was made in the context of the Czech New Wave, that time following the unsuccessful Prague Spring, when although nationalistic political developments were blocked by the Soviet invasion, there was little the ‘authorities’ could do to stem the tide of Czech cultural and artistic rejection of the communist ideological straightjacket. The consequence was an explosive release of energy from a Cinema that had been constrained for too long by the political tenets of social realism. This Czech Cinema from the mid ‘60’s to ‘70’s overflowed with ideas, with the possibilities of expressing countercultural and surreal structures in creative ways that were not possible within the barren bounds of dialectical materialism. In about the same period in the Soviet Union Tarkovsky and Parajanov had also pushed and broken through the orthodox strictures of Goskino (the state film production company), and made films that were products of personal not political vision.
Whereas the mise en scene, lighting and cinematography all create a sense of spacial movement through worlds of horror fairytale and surreal imagery, the acting itself is absolutely solid. The actors, in particular the grandmother, all play out their characters as expressive architypes rather than playing into and internalising them. They work with heightened classical control over the musculature of their bodies, all movement executed with acute physical precision. This stylistic gloss has the effect of presenting the actors as performing on a different plane from the chaos through which they move, both offsetting and exaggerating the dream like quality of the imagery.
The music is a wonderful complement to the movie. The soundtracks of many contemporary films are characterised by synthesised music, contoured and shaped to exaggerate the desired emotional affects of the script. Valerie’s score is a rich amalgam of evocative Slavic Melody and Classical music that combines, underlines and enriches the scenario, but is not used as a means to manipulate emotion. Its effect is celebratory, ‘in tune’ with Jires’ underlying motif.
Jires’ ‘Valerie’ with its uncompromising primacy of vision feels like harbinger of the break up of the Soviet Empire and ultimately the Soviet Union itself, which in the form it took was ultimately held togather by an unsustainable rational mythology.