MEALS FOR MONSTERS: VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970)
Review and recipes by Jenny Orosel
You know that magic moment when you’ve discovered a hidden gem of a movie? That moment when you see something totally different and you cannot wait to introduce your friends, your family, and random strangers on the Internet to something totally unique and unknown? And then the feeling following when you realize, you’re not the first to discover it, not the second or third, but the nine hundred, fifty seven thousandth. That happened with me and VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS (1970). It turns out this is a classic unbeknownst to me, a film that influenced many that came after it (including being the inspiration for 1983’s IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES), is currently playing on Criterion’s Hulu channel, and is taught in many college courses from Women’s Studies to Eastern European History. I feel like my eyes have been opened, much like Valerie’s (albeit, to a much less profound degree).
For those who haven’t experienced it yet, VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS is a fairy tale from Czechoslovakia. Not one of your Disney fables, but as they were in the Grimm days. Thirteen-year-old Valerie is awakened from an afternoon nap when a thief steals her beloved earrings, the lone gift left by her long lost mother. No worries, as they are returned the next day. Only, now she begins menstruating, and when she puts the earrings back on, she can see the world as it really is. Her suitor is now an eagle, the travelling missionary is a weasel, and her small village is overrun with vampires, from the local priest to her friend’s new husband, to her own grandmother. The priest wants to corrupt her innocence, her grandmother wants to steal her youth, the eagle is hiding a dangerous secret, and nothing but evil seems to come from the missionary. Can Valerie survive with her body and soul intact, or will she become yet another ‘monster’ herself?
Yes, a lot of the imagery in VALERIE is heavy-handed. Weasels, vampires, demons…these were hardly unique in the seventies, and are even less so now. But that hardly matters in VALERIE’s world. The imagery is so stunning that it more than makes up for the lack of originality in the symbols. ‘Lyrical’ is the best word I can come up with to describe the pacing. Valerie moves through the week with such a gentle ease, despite the madness surrounding her. And it’s hard to believe that Jaroslava Schallerova, the actress who portrayed Valerie, was only 13 herself when she made this flick. She carries the movie, being in nearly every shot, without faltering, with a performance more nuanced than what most performers three times her age are capable of. The only downside has nothing to do with the movie itself, but rather the DVD. The subtitles are seriously lacking in the region 1 release from Facets Video. It’s not quite at the “All your base are belong to us” level, but there are moments when it gets closer than it should. From what I understand, the region 2 disc from Redemption, is much better, and I can only assume that Criterion’s streaming version is tightened and some of the grammatical issues have been fixed.
Coming up with a drink for this one was a little tricky. In the past year, the Czech Republic put major restrictions on hard alcohol. However, beer is more popular than ever over there. So what would be a good beer drink to honor Valerie’s transition from childhood innocence to adulthood? I present to you the:
Fruit flavored ale
Chocolate ice cream
Directions: Feel free to adapt this to taste. I used an apricot ale. Strawberry ice cream was attempted, but the flavor was too light to stand up to the chocolate.
Kolaches, like VALERIE, are little bits of Eastern European deliciousness that I’ve only recently discovered. They can be made with sweet fillings or, as I used them here, with savory meat for a meal. But they do need a vegetable side. Boiled cabbage is a popular Czech side, but that’s not something I wanted to put people (or myself) through. So I did the next best thing:
KOLACHES WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Ingredients for the Kolaches:
1 roll refrigerated French bread dough
½ Polska Kielbasa, diced
8 mushrooms, diced
½ onion, diced
Directions: Preheat the oven to 375. Sauté the sausage, mushrooms and onion until the veggies are cooked through. Divide the bread dough into 8 equal parts. Flatten each piece into a disc and put onto a greased cookie sheet. Divide the filling evenly onto the center of the discs and press down with the palm of your hand.
Ingredients (for the Brussels sprouts):
1 pound Brussels sprouts, halved or quartered (depending on the size)
Other ½ of the onion, diced.
6 slices of bacon, cut into strips.
Directions: Toss the ingredients together and put on ungreased cookie sheet.
Bake both of these, at the same time, for 25 minutes.
One of the most popular Czech desserts is a pastry called a Trdelnik. It’s an elaborate bit of sugary goodness that takes multiple risings, and has to be baked over an open fire on a spit. As delicious as they are, it’s too much work and too much of an expense, involving equipment that you’ll maybe use once or twice again. Instead, I took the traditional flavors of the Trdelnik and put them into a bread pudding:
1 small loaf cinnamon bread, cubed
¾ cup milk
¼ cup sugar
1 can tart cherries (NOT pie filling, but the kind that are packed in water), drained.
Directions: Beat the eggs, milk and sugar. Fold in the bread and cherries. Pour into buttered baking dish (this can be done ahead of time and stored in the refrigerator until ready to bake). Bake in an oven preheated to 350 for 25 to 30 minutes, or until done. Can be served hot, room temperature, or cold, but best served with whipped cream.
I’ve seen my share of Female Puberty Horrors in my day. From CARRIE to GINGER SNAPS to countless others in between, the transformation from girl to woman has been done so many times as lycanthropic transformation, the emergence of witchly powers, as a sign that the demons within her has emerged with her menstrual blood. It’s a welcome change in VALERIE AND HER WEEK OF WONDERS that, it’s not the girl who is evil, but the world around her. The added bonus is that it’s a fantastic movie that, although muddled at times, is both fascinating and gorgeous to watch. If you’re in the same boat I was and have never seen it, do so now, and hopefully you’ll enjoy the dinner as well.
© Copyright 2013 by Jenny Orosel