Tag Archives: Jaromil Jires


DIRECTED BY: Jirí Menzel, Jan Nemec, Evald Schorm, Vera Chytilová,

FEATURING: Pavla Marsálková, Milos Ctrnacty, Frantisek Havel, Josefa Pechlatová, Václav Zák, Vera Mrázkova, Vladimír Boudník, Alzbeta Lastovková, Dana Valtová, Ivan Vyskocil

PLOT: Short adaptations of five stories from Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal: racing enthusiasts

Still from Pearls of the Deep (1966)

are obsessed with crashes, two old men in a nursing home reminisce, functionaries try to sell insurance to a mad artist, the discovery of a corpse causes a restaurant to close, and a timid apprentice plumber falls for a fiery teenage Gypsy girl.

WHY IT WON’T MAKE THE LIST: Only two of the five segments in this anthology are significantly bizarre, and a paltry 40% weird rate is not going to get your omnibus movie onto the List.

COMMENTS: The Czech New Wave was part of a fascinating period of creativity that resulted from an unprecedented liberalization of film and literature in Communist Czechoslovakia in the 1960s; the movement brought the world the novels of Milan Kundera and the films of director Milos Forman. During this time writers and filmmakers often turned towards surrealism as a way to implicitly critique the absurdity of the totalitarian status quo while maintaining deniability about their political aims (after all, they were merely writing obscure nonsense fiction in the tradition pioneered by national icon Franz Kafka). The New Wave essentially ended in 1968 when, concerned that the rapid pace of democratization might lead Czechoslovakia to exit the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union invaded the country and installed a hard-line regime. Based on short stories by New Wave writer Bohumil Hrabal and featuring entries from five of the top directors of the New Wave, Pearls of the Deep is a sort of sampler of this moment in history when Iron Curtain artists briefly wiggled out of the shackles that had bound them to an ideological wall for decades.

In the wild, you have to open a lot of oysters to find a single pearl; something similar is true of feature length anthology of short films, where the entries have an inevitable tendency to average out. Although even Hrabal’s straightest stories contain small doses of absurdism (which show up in non sequitur dialogues or little narrative oddities), only two of these adaptations have conceits peculiar enough to form surrealistic pearls. Since our focus is on weird films, we’re going to briefly open and reject three out of these five New Wave oysters before looking more Continue reading CAPSULE: PEARLS OF THE DEEP (1966)


The sixth submission in the June review writing contest: by “Kat.”


FEATURING: Jaroslava Schallerova, Helena Anyzova, Petr Kopriva, Jiri Prymek

PLOT:  13-year old Valerie lives with her grandmother in a small rural village in

Still from Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970)

Czechoslovakia; on the week of her menarche she drifts into a sensual, and at times threatening, dreamworld.

WHY IT DESERVES TO MAKE THE LIST:  This is a gently weird film, as close to representing a dream on film as I have yet seen.  Every shot is a thing of beauty.  The plot is loose but generally true to its own dream logic.  As she approaches adulthood Valerie finds herself the object of desire for men, women and weasel-men alike.  Responding to all the strange occurrences around her with unflappable calmness, Valerie is a passive heroine, but Schallerova oozes charm and is a complete eye magnet whenever she is onscreen.

COMMENTS: A tight, coherent plot is not the strength of this piece, it has to be said.  It’s very much like the moments when you first wake from a puzzling dream, before your conscious mind has started to add little bridging details to try and make sense of it.

Valerie lives with her grandmother, and at the age of 13 has her first period.  Her grandmother tells her that this is the same age as her mother was.  It seems to be an occasion for neither celebration nor shame.  Valerie tells her grandmother that she is excited at the prospect of a troupe of actors arriving in the village and is informed that she’d do better to be excited about the arrival of the bishop and his priests.  You’d be forgiven for thinking that her grandmother is a bit of a party pooper, but like everyone in this film she’s not just what she appears to be at first glance.  Throughout the film religion and sexuality arm wrestle for dominance, but it’s rather like both arms are on the same body.

The performers arrive, as do the clergy.  The bishop has come to deliver a sermon to the virgins of the village, and it’s a pretty inappropriate one.  The bishop himself is a tad inappropriate at times, and has a face not designed to inspire confidence, looking like the hideous love child of Graf Orlak and Bergman’s Death, but with some of the most terrible teeth ever committed to film.  Again though, by the end of the film you’ll see him in different light.

During the course of the film Valerie will see transforming weasels, a hairy priest striptease and the nubile young women of the village will invite her to join them in a game of “hide the fish down your bodice” in the sun dappled river.  She will cure a young women of a strange vampiric ailment by sleeping with her, spy on her grandmother in a odd sexual situation while the toothy bishop lurks at her shoulder and will laugh in the face of being burned at the stake.  Throughout it all Valerie is protected by her mother’s magic earrings and is watched over, in a slightly creepy way by her brother (or would be lover?) Eagle.

Films about girls “coming of age” are few and far between and this is a gorgeous example.  Valerie is surrounded by sexuality both threatening and inviting.  She is on the receiving end of aggressive approaches from the hairy priest and her domineering female cousin, but also sees a guiltless, inviting sensuality in the form of the women in the river, the young woman she spends the night with and the gentle Eagle.

In the end Valerie seems to have explored both the dark and the light of impending womanhood and emerged into the sunlight, where even the toothy bishop seems a bit of a sweetie.

This would make a perfect double bill with Neil Jordan and Angela Carter’s Company Of Wolves, if you fancy an evening of oestrogen-heavy weirdness.


“…a collection of dream adventures, spurred by guiltless and poly-sexual eroticism. Virtually every shot is a knockout…”–Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader (rerelease/screening)