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Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) comes of age rather early in Valerie and Her Week of Wonders

Film Society of Lincoln Center, Francesca Beale Theater
144 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Aves.
Saturday, May 25, 6:30, and Monday, May 27, 8:30
Series runs May 24-29

The Film Society of Lincoln Center’s “Ester Krumbachová: Unknown Master of the Czechoslovak New Wave” series, presented in collaboration with the Czech Center New York, pays tribute to the career of writer, director, set designer, and costume designer Ester Krumbachová (1923-96), who was blacklisted by the communist government for her work. The six-day festival consists of ten films by such directors as Karel Kachyňa (Coach to Vienna, The Ear), Vojtěch Jasný (All My Compatriots), Věra Chytilová (Fruit of Paradise, Daisies), and Jan Němec (Diamonds of the Night), Krumbachová’s onetime husband and muse. On May 25 and 27, Jaromil Jireš’s Valerie and Her Week of Wonders will be shown, an extremely strange, totally hypnotic film on which Krumbachová served as writer and production designer. (Producer and curator Irena Kovarova will introduce the latter screening.) Based on the 1945 Gothic novel by Vítězslav Nezval (which was written ten years earlier), Valerie is a dreamy adult fairy tale, inspired by “Little Red Riding Hood,” “Alice in Wonderland,” and other fables, about the coming of age of Valerie, a nymphette played by thirteen-year-old Jaroslava Schallerová in her film debut. Valerie lives with her icy, regal grandmother, Elsa (Helena Anýzová), in a remote village, where visiting missionaries and actors are cause for celebration. In addition, Valerie’s best friend, Hedvika (Alena Stojáková), is being forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. Valerie, who is in possession of magic earrings, is being courted by the bespectacled, bookish Eaglet (Petr Kopriva) as well as the Constable (Jirí Prýmek), who just happens to be an evil, ugly vampire who has a mysterious past with Elsa. Also showing an untoward interest in the virginal Valerie is the local priest, Gracián (Jan Klusák).

But don’t get too caught up in the hallucinatory narrative, which usually makes little sense. Characters’ motivations are inconsistent and confusing (especially as Jireš delves deeper and deeper into Valerie’s unconscious), plot points come and go with no explanation, and the spare dialogue is often random and inconsequential. And don’t try too hard looking for references to the Prague Spring, colonialism, and communism; just trust that they’re in there. Instead, let yourself luxuriate in Jan Curík’s lush imagery, Lubos Fiser and Jan Klusák’s Baroque score, Krumbachová’s enchanting production design, and Jan Oliva’s weirdly wonderful art direction. Valerie’s white bedroom is enchantingly surreal, a private world in a darkly magical Medieval land beset by incest, rape, fire, murder, self-flagellation, paganism, and monsters, everything dripping with blood and sex. No, this is most definitely not a fantasia for kids. “Ester Krumbachová: Unknown Master of the Czechoslovak New Wave” runs May 24-29 and also includes Zbyněk Brynych’s . . . and the Fifth Horseman Is Fear in addition to all the films listed above as well as Krumbachová’s own The Murder of Mr. Devil, the only film she directed, screening with introductions May 24 and 27.

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