Bleed little girl, bleed.
Thirteen year old Valerie (Jaroslava Schallerová) – who looks like a young Britt Ekland – lives with her grandmother (Helena Anýzová) in a large house. One day, missionary / actor-player / complete weirdo Tchor-konstábl (Jirí Prýmek) appears in the town with Orlík (Petr Kopriva) – who may have already been there – and quickly becomes interested in grandmother and Valerie. There’s much more to it than that as the film unfolds like a fever dream story of incest, lesbianism, sexual-awaking, molestation, sexuality, marriage as well as vampires, weasels and religion….
This film touches on a lot of themes in a less-than-coherent fashion.
The concept of the ages of women is explored. Valerie is a girl on the cusp of womanhood as she has begun the wonderful process of menstruation with the associated powers of bloating, bitching, and having to carry around pieces of cotton that look like ammunition for a good chunk of the rest of her life. The film is told from her perspective as she views the other ages of women as problematic – though, speaking of problematic, she’s not the most reliable narrator and seems to be suffering from a case of schizophrenia or really bad menstrual psychosis. The next age of womankind is the young bride, symbolized by Hedvika (Alena Stojáková) who is married to a much older farmer who can’t wait to get his rough hands all over her nubile body. Valerie looks upon Hedvika with sadness as she understands that this is not the life that Hedvika would have chosen for herself, but one that a woman must accept as she goes from a young maid to a wife. Finally, there’s grandmother who, with the help of the vampire, becomes a younger version of herself as Elsa. She seeks to recapture the beauty and vivaciousness of her youth and becomes predatory in her sexuality when she violates the natural order by appearing young of body while being old of mind. A young girl might easily view marriage as a terrible thing and be distrustful of the old as they seem to exist simply to exert control over her life, so this might be nothing more than a girl’s look at aging; or it might just be a lot of trippy imagery.
Elsa is not the only one who shows perverted sexuality when she attempts to seduce – or possibly feed on – her granddaughter as Valerie seems to be on everybody’s ‘pork-her’ list. Her father (Martin Wielgus) – just another form of the vampire – attempts to rape her, something that most young girls would prefer not happen. Even her hero, Orlík, turns out to be more than a potential lover when it’s revealed that he’s her half-brother, something that makes him less than desirable as a partner. There’s a lot of incest in this film, it makes me wonder if it was shot in the south of Czechoslovakia … checking … or Czeching … maps … yes it is! Attempted incest isn’t the only sex shown, Valerie often spies on others having sex through keyholes, spy holes, and knotholes; she’s looking through the holes, they’re not having sex through keyholes or anything, that would be weird. All of this shows Valerie’s fear of and fascination with, sexuality – something that is normal for a girl her age. Confusion about sex is not uncommon in youngsters – boys and girls, but no one cares about boys – and Valerie’s attraction to forbidden men in her life could just be a manifestation of her burgeoning desire to have that sort of intimacy with safe targets, fathers, brothers, mother-figures, etc. Of course, it could also be some Freudian ideal taken to extremes. Then again, it might just be a lot of trippy imagery.
Speaking of sex with inappropriate people, this film features a molesting priest, Gracián (Jan Klusák), who’s so degenerate that he actually likes girls. Everything I said about sex applies here, but there’s the added dimension of religion to complicate matters. The religious folk of the town are veritable fonts of repressed sexuality, as the men seem to be holdovers from the flagellant sects and the nuns are all beautiful women who have an unhealthy devotion to Gracián. Even though Gracián hanged himself when Valerie decided he wasn’t well-hung enough to rape her, he’s back later and mad at being scorned. Gracián riles the townspeople up and sets them on Valerie by denouncing her as a witch – which is a pretty rude way to deal with rejection – and so they naturally attempt to burn her at the stake while the nuns rub themselves in an unmistakably sensual way; something like the young women who litter the film who appear to be in – or on – ecstasy of a variety other than religious. Again, religion is filtered through the eyes of a young girl as all the pageantry and mystical hokum appears as exotic and mysterious to her as it would to an outsider, but there’s the unmistakeable aura of repressed sexuality. This sexual undercurrent is especially evident in the way that the vampire – in his missionary guise – is allowed to give a sermon on the value of virginity to the maidens of the town, a sermon that drips with his hunger for their goodies; blood or bodies, it makes no difference. Of course, it might just be a lot of trippy imagery.
That hunger is what drives the vampire Tchor-konstábl, a creature that hearkens back to Graf Orlok (Max Schreck) from the German classic silentrather than the romantic / Gothic vampire that had become the preferred form. Rather than being linked to bats and wolves, Czech vampires are tied to weasels. The weasel, in European mythology, is a creature that drinks blood and revels in killing, a creature of evil that feeds on the livestock of the hardworking farmer, much like revenuers. Vampires are essentially creatures of hunger as they feed on the lifeblood of their victims, but they also seduce and despoil their victims, turning them into fellow creatures of carnal hunger. This nicely reflects Bram Stoker‘s very Victorian attitude toward sexuality in general – a version of male conquering female – and female sexuality in particular – women as rapacious beasts who always want more and are prepared to take it if they don’t get their way … is this supposed to be a bad thing? – as vampires represent male sexuality released from the morality of the day and female vampires represent a more threatening version of the devouring female. I like it when females devour me. There’s also the distinct possibility that all of this is just an excuse for some trippy imagery.
Why do I keep coming back to sex?
This film is as beautiful as it is baffling. The fun of surrealism is that one can look at it from dozens of perspectives and still be no closer to understanding the work as a whole, but can easily enjoy it on multiple levels. Even if this film is taken as a straightforward dreamlike version of Alice in Wonderland, it’s still lush and beautiful to look at. The locations were chosen for their timeless look and the interiors are all decorated in such a way as to make everything magical. There’s more than symbolism to Valerie’s room decorated in all white, it’s a striking background as Valerie stands out in any scene she’s in. Everything was done to maintain a beautiful fantasy world as even the scene in which she’s burned at the stake is designed to be amazing. Maybe it was just an opportunity for some trippy imagery.
Valerie herself is a beautiful young girl – actually Jaroslava Schallerová was about 13 at the time the film was made – though she looks a couple of years older than the character’s age of thirteen. The scenes of her nude are striking – partially due to today’s atmosphere of paranoia about the supposed inevitable harm caused by child nudity on film or ‘kiddy porn’ if you’d prefer to be dramatic – because it seems so natural to the story somehow. Back in the 70s and earlier, people thought nothing of nude photos of children, it’s only recently that the hysteria that such photographs are inherently abusive has spread like wildfire, as a moral panic is wont to do. Unfortunately, since common sense is something that legislators and law enforcement sorely lack, a zero-tolerance policy of naked child equals child porn makes this film either a wonderful subversion of the narrow-minded regulation or a threat to the natural order of things. I’ll suggest that this reading would please everyone involved in the production immensely.
Plus, that trippy imagery.