Going Underground


This two-weekend AMMI series zeroes in on the former Czechoslovakia’s lesser-known crazies, who slipped through the Soviet sieve while better-known brethren (Chytilová, Passer, Forman) banked on foreign acclaim. The most notable, Jan Svankmajer, weighs in with his wordless, shallow-focus short, Down to the Cellar (1983), where a moppet fetching potatoes gets sidetracked by a codger with candy, a witchy washwoman, and a black cat. Everything is up for grabs, including the scale of the cat, as the dust and dirt coalesce into an army of edible, grotesque threats. Criminally underscreened, Jaromil Jires’s cine-poem Valerie and Her Week of Wonders (1970) is a quintessential fable, keeping its politics tucked and its ravishing waif (Jaroslava Schallerová) barely buttoned. Living, sleeping, luxuriating in a white room, Valerie is growing up fast, Gigi-fying under the watchful eyes of a pious grandmother whose advice for decent living is “Go practice your minor scales.” Stocked with the same horny holies who might be found in Jodorowsky or Ken Russell, Valerie’s conjuring act also features anti-vampire lesbianism, flagellants, and a dour orgy to celebrate grandma’s return as a comely slice of undead hot-cha. Miraculously, Valerie remains incorruptible, with her magic pearl warding off a reverend, who, in a juicy moment of ooga-booga, shimmies toward Valerie, ripping off his frock to reveal not a hair shirt, but a flyass lion-tooth necklace.