by Allan Fish
(Czechoslovakia 1970 74m) DVD1/2
Aka. Valerie A Tyden Divu
Valerie the Vampire Slayer
p Jaromil Jires d Jaromil Jires w Jaromil Jires, Ester Krumachova story Viteslav Nezval ph Jan Curik ed Josef Vausiak m Lubos Fiser art Jan Oliva
Jaroslava Schallerova (Valerie), Jan Klusak (Gracian), Helena Anyzova, Petr Kopriva, Juiri Prymek,
Well, it’s certainly more of a mouthful than Buffy. And slayer probably isn’t quite the word either, but the idea of a young girl coming face to face with vampires was not just created by Joss Whedon; Jaromil Jires beat him to it by over twenty years. However, though vampires appear it isn’t a vampire movie at all, but rather a study in adolescence and female sexual discovery. It’s also the sort of film that could never, and indeed will never, be made in the US or even the UK, where it would outrage the moral majority.
Valerie is a thirteen year old redhead who has fantastic dreams and a rich imagination. She lives with her grandmother, a pale but youthful looking woman who has never been near a man since her seduction and impregnation with Valerie’s mother at seventeen. Valerie is warned by her grandmother not to wear her mother’s earrings, which seem to possess some sort of magical significance and, not doing so, finds herself in increasingly fantastic scenarios, involving witchcraft, vampirism and ghosts (even involving her dead parents) and at the same time, is beginning to explore her sexuality.
Studies in female adolescence and sexuality have been commonplace, and have occasionally (A Nos Amours, Vagabonde, Lilya 4-ever and Mouchette) been memorable. Somehow Valerie is the most appealing because it isn’t satisfied with being merely a study of burgeoning sexuality, but of fantasy, dark fairy tales and the sexuality that lies beneath them. We all know that there is a sexual subtext to such stories as Little Red Riding Hood but rarely have we seen it displayed as such on film. Jires’ protagonist has eyes filled with wonder and expectation, she’s scared in some ways, but also excited at what may be round the corner. She may come dangerously close to being seduced at every turn, not only to sex but to darkness itself, including by a local preacher, but she is safe in her dreams, for dreams they remain. We also know that, though Jires may allow us to see his heroine naked (which would cause outcry in the English speaking world with a 14 year old actress), her virtue will thankfully remain intact as her bedroom is a pure white chapel of purity. Her predetermined safety goes even beyond her virtue, but to her life itself; when she apparently meets her demise, there’s never any real danger. From the outset you know you’re watching something with only the faintest link to reality; earrings are stolen and returned just as quickly, letters are delivered by doves, masked vampires mingle unnoticed at weddings and clerics perform extreme unction on young girls.
There are times when it seems like Jires is merely happy to mix Lewis Carroll and Eastern European mysticism and other times when he seems dangerously close to entering the more explicit world that would be presided over later in the decade by Walerian Borowczyk, but he just manages to keep the film this side of explicitness. In dreams much more can be got away with, but he fills the screen with serenely beautiful shots and his cinematographer more than earns his pay. At the centre is Schallerova; a young girl on the cusp of her sexual awakening. “I’m no longer a child” she tells her grandmother, and there’s real anxiety in her face when she sees slightly older girls playing about in the water and wishes for her looks to bloom like theirs. That’s a moment of reality in an unreal film that is cherishable and, in spite of the likes of A Nos Amours, Mouchette and Walkabout, it remains the greatest ever film about female adolescence. The last words, however, for Lubos Fiser’s truly stunning, haunting, captivating score, one of only many from one of the forgotten masters of movie musical accompaniment and, quite, possibly, his best.