The internet is littered with click bait articles such as the best films ever made, best films you’ve never seen and the best directors ever. It would be something if these lists furthered people’s understanding of cinema and the voices out there rather than perpetuating blind adulation of the same voices and the same types of film. This is a query that made me ask a different, albeit related, question. What makes a director one of the all-time greats? Have they directed a few all-time classics even if their filmography is spotty? Inventing a new genre or furthering cinematic language? There are so many different ways to perceive such a question. For me, a major part of that discourse has to be based upon the consistency of the body of work they leave behind, and upon that premise you surely have to include Milos Forman in that discussion. From his beginnings as one of the key voices in the forever challenging Czech new wave to being a big hitter in new Hollywood and beyond, he has always been great. That has never been more apparent than in looking back to the very beginnings of his career, look no further than the Blu-ray debut of his second feature, A Blonde in Love – out now from Second Run.
Many different film making nations have had their new waves and many of them were defined by a strict sense of style and purpose, Czech New Wave couldn’t be more diametrically opposed. From 1963 to ’68, Czechoslovakian directors produced a series of fiercely political and anti-establishment films that where banned almost as often as they where made. Still, there was no unifying style. This is a scene that includes surrealist fantasy fables (Valerie and her week of Wonders), nightmarish horror (the Cremator), knockabout sci-fi comedy (Tomorrow I’ll wake up and Scold Myself with Tea (that is a real title of a real film)) and A Blonde in Love, which, ostensibly, has the same tone, lackadaisical episodic structure and dramatic drive as a French New Wave film (think Truffaut’s Jules & Jim (1962)).
Part way into A Blonde in Love, there is a scene with a group of middle aged politicians talking about a specific area in Czechoslovakia where women outnumber men by 16 to 1. The way in to that statistic is through Hana Brejchová (Andula) as she tries to find love and escape her life in the hostel with many other girls and factory life. Forman’s film is broken up into three vague episodes. The first sees Andula talk lovingly about her new boyfriend who we don’t see until they break up. The second is a party put on for middle aged soldiers on leave, which sees one group attempting to flirt with Andula and their friends despite the fact that they are old enough to be the girls fathers. The last segues from the party where Andula sleeps with one of the musicians and attempts to run off to with him. Music is one of the consistent joys, with a thoughtful, performed to camera, acoustic ballad opening the film up. Throughout all of these movements, Forman talks about how the ineptitude of the communist state has led to a deeply fractured society that treats young girls with as much dignity as livestock.
Hidden within the politics, French new wave-isms and documentary naturalism, there’s a real wry sense of humour at play. The extended sequence in which the three soldiers valiantly attempt and fail to flirt with the young girls is an absolute treasure trove of awkward humour. A favourite moment sees the most forward of the soldiers buy some wine that he describe as healthy because it is from the ground and almost force feed the girls by using the words, “come on, drink your wine like man”. Using words like that to someone you are flirting with is as awkward as it is funny, but it also neatly depicts how divorced from one another these six people are. The same sentiment can be extended to the arguments that the parents and their son have when Andula turns up unannounced on their doorstep. As a collaboration between Forman and (other significant new wave figure) Ivan Passer (Intimate Lighting), this is the exact brand of subtle characterisation that has made Czech Wave so interesting to dive into 50 years later.
A Blonde in Love, or Loves of a Blonde as it is also known, is deceptively dense because to look at it on paper it doesn’t appear to hold much substance. It is a small, subtle film with non-professional actors in its cast and a distant, aloof cinematography that feels more akin to documentary camera work. Yet like any of its Czech New Wave brethren, Forman’s film is a deceptive beast, one where its surface doesn’t even come close to telling of what lies beneath. And it is that which Czech Wave such an intriguing multi-faceted movement and, by turn, Forman one of its more beguiling exports. It is a message film that also happens to be charming, relatable and funny with enough political vigour to power twitter for months.
A BLONDE IN LOVE IS OUT NOW FROM SECOND RUN