A biting, anticlerical fantasia interwoven with Red Riding Hood-esque coming-of-age anxiety, Jaromil Jireš’ Valerie and Her Week of Wonders is a rich paean to timeless children’s horror stories told with striking visual beauty through the gleaming eyes of its teenaged protagonist. On the eve of her 13th birthday, mere days before her installation at a nearby convent, Valerie is gifted a pair of magic earrings once belonging to her mother, a graduate (or shall I say survivor) of that same convent. From the moment she adorns this sacred heirloom, Valerie is swept up in a sinister plot, led by a wicked Bishop with occult superpowers.
Her sole ally and refuge is local outcast Eagle, a shy and bookish man who endures brutal punishment after punishment in his effort to rescue the beguiling youngster. A visiting missionary, sent to escort Valerie to her new novitiate’s life, sets upon his charge with an almost animalistic hunger: our first hint that the plan in store for Valerie is anything but benevolent. The venerable institutions of family, church, and state are freely skewered in true Czechoslovak New Wave fashion, depicting the Holy See as a band of bloodthirsty vampires, and the ignorant townsfolk under their sway as little more than hapless accomplices. How could they know their quarry is protected from these evil forces by her naivete and abiding reverence for the natural world? Valerie’s devotion is one of total purity, a rebellious allegiance to the beauty of a time before man and man-made constraints.