Purple Television

[April 5 2020] : film

Purple Paradiso: “Valerie And Her Week of Wonders” by Jaromil Jireš, 1970, Your Movie Of The Day Curated By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm

Purple Paradiso: “Valerie And Her Week of Wonders” by Jaromil Jireš, 1970, Your Movie Of The Day Curated By Savannah Nolan and Olivier Zahm

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a 1970 Czechoslovak surrealist fantasy/ horror film directed by Jaromil Jireš. Jaromil is considered to be the founding father of the Czechoslovak New Wave, a movement known for its dark humor, use of non-professional actors, surrealism and “art-cinema realism.”  It is based on a novel by Vitezslav Nezval.  Valerie is an intensely surreal gothic Freudian-fairy tale woven around the sexual awakening of a young woman with vampires, creepy priests, rituals, witchcraft, and incest. The film likely takes place inside of a dream rather than reality – a concept that inspired Christopher Nolan’s film Inception.  Many of Nolan’s films dating back to his student films, like Doodlebug, channel Czech Surrealism that fuse realism and the fantastic.


The film was marketed in the U.S as a psychedelic, counterculture cult film that you were supposed to see while stoned. However, I doubt that this was the way it was marketed, or received, in post-Soviet Czechoslovakia. The films of the Czechoslovak New Wave touched on themes which earlier filmmakers in communist countries were censored for using.  Surrealism and abstract thought is deeply rooted in Czech culture which produced many of the movement’s greatest artists and thinkers. Freud sat in Prague’s cafés, Kafka was a national hero, and Toyen painted the surrealist mood that permeated through society in the early 20th-century pre-communism. Czechs were free to return to their roots in abstract surrealism after the Prague Spring in 1968 which led to the fall of the communist regimes. This is when films like Valerie came into existence.  Its exaggerated style and storyline might be a symptom of the sudden explosion of freedom after years of artistic repression that communism caused.  Some viewers have seen hidden within it an implicit, anti- Soviet political allegory. At times, the film modulates into the picture-postcard excessive prettiness of softcore Euro-porn from the 70s. It’s an inspirational movie aesthetically speaking and went on to inspire the aesthetics of many iconic films including Belladonna of Sadness (1973), Nosferatu by Herzog (1979), many of Tarkovsky’s films including Mirror (1972) Stalker (1979) and Nostalghia (1983) and director Alejandro Jodorowsky.


Valerie is a puzzling film. It’s boring yet fascinating, beautiful yet cliché.  The film creates an incredible world yet lacks the story all films need. You can see all the elements of a narrative but the elements don’t lead people to any common cinematic endpoint. When you look at films, especially ones from the early 60s, like Last Year at Marienbad (1961) or L’Avventura (1960), they posed the same effect which created an outrage among people because the narrative didn’t go as it was “supposed” to go. What is clear from all of Jaromil’s films, is that he was interested in experimenting with narrative. The score composed by Luboš Fišer is a highlight and remains one of my favorite film scores to date.


Valerie does manage to maintain, for the most part, a female-sexuality based point of view. It’s a film about female pleasure rather than man’s pleasure, something we don’t see often in the history of cinema. Off the top of my head, the only other film I can think of, that shares the same sentiment of wanting to show sexuality from a woman’s point of view from a similar time period, is Luis Buñuel’s Belle de Jour (1968) or  Histoire d’O (1975).

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