Loves of a Blonde: Miloš Forman knows it’s difficult to be ‘normal’

What happened yesterday

Doesn’t happen often

That you meet a girl

As beautiful as a dream

And I love her so much

(Of yeah yeah yeah)

And I love her so much

(Oh Yeah yeah yeah)

My love for her was so great

It turned me into a hooligan

Loves of a Blonde (CzechLásky jedné plavovlásky) is a 1965 Czechoslovakian film directed by Miloš Forman. It is also known under the alternate title of A Blonde in Love.

Miloš Forman‘s fourth film, second feature and first significant international hit opens with the shot of a young woman (Tana Zelinkova) only just out of her teens singing a lively rock and roll number accompanied by her own acoustic guitar playing and off-screen backing vocals. She sings the song in Czech, which at first (deliberately) seems at odds with her attempts at Westernized 60’s style dress. At the start of the song she pauses and swallows before starting implying nerves, but also the films main theme:  the difficulties of being ‘normal’ teens in a system that favours central planning and social engineering over any notion of following dreams, plans and desires.  Although the film is extremely funny in certain parts, and its title hints at teen romance joviality, it is a ruefully sobering study of the effect  one’s environment can have on one’s prospects.

I whispered into her ears:

“You have lovely lips”

And she said “You fool,

Why don’t you kiss them?”

And I love her so much

(oh yeah yeah yeah)

And I love her so much

(Oh yeah yeah yeah)

My love for her was so great

It turned me into a hooligan.

The story is based on an experience Forman claims to have had where he was walking the streets late one night and spotted a young woman with a suitcase. She didn’t seem to be in any sort of a hurry, so he asked where she was going and if she was alright. The woman said she had come to an address that turned out not to exist. She was from Varnsdorf, a town in northern Bohemia dominated by the show industry. Because most of the workers there tended to be women, the ratio of women to men was 9:1.  This gave any man who visited there an inflated sense of his own status. in this environment, dashed hopes and dreams were not just prevalent, but inevitable.

Forman wrote the script with regular co-writers Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papoušek and created three distinctive acts that are bookended by an epilogue and a prologue. In these Andula (Hana Brejchová) shares romantic fantasies with an unnamed friend. Initially she seems to have a boyfriend and a fiance, but as the film stretches we find neither of these are the case. She sets up a tryst with the fiance (a polka dot tie tied around a tree in the woods to signify her arrival – this is a beautifully shot scene) only to find herself accosted by a gamekeeper instead. He seems like a decent catch himself, except that he is already spoken for.

Then I told her:

“You have lovely eyes”

And she answered:

“You’re telling lies”

And I love her so much

(oh yeah yeah yeah)

And I love her so much

(Oh yeah yeah yeah)

My love for her was so great

It turned me into a hooligan.

 

This seems like any other film about teen romance until we are introduced to the factory and local military overlords (all male of course) who decide to dabble in a little social engineering. Mr Pokorny (Joseph Kolb), the factory’s social director, arranges with an army major (Jan Vostrcil) to ship a garrison of reservists close to town to counteract the male shortage. The garrison arrive, but before the descend from the train, the locals are horrified to find all the soldiers are middle-aged, overweight,  balding (mostly married) men who do not in any way define the image of the alpha-male warrior.

The dance that follows is pure cinematic brilliance. The highlight of this fantastic film. This is a large-scale set piece that is extremely funny and emotionally focussed. The piece starts with men and women on opposite sides of the hall eyeing each other off as the band play jazz to try to get Aveyron in the mood. Pokorny wanders around making hand gestures trying to get things happening but as the empty beer glasses mount up on the table it is clear that shyness and awkwardness are dominating proceedings.

Then I told her:

“you have lovely hair”

And she said “You fool,

Why don’t you muss it up?”

And I love her so much

(oh yeah yeah yeah)

And I love her so much

(Oh yeah yeah yeah)

My love for her was so great

It turned me into a hooligan.

Andula and her friends spend their time trying to avoid a table of pudgy males trying to get their attention. They devise plans of avoidance in case any of them try to make a move. It is specifically because she is trying to avert her gaze that Andula catches the eye of Milda (Vladimir Pucholt) the bands pianist, who had been tucked away discreetly at the back of the stage.  The pudgy soldiers discuss amongst themselves how best to approach the girls and decide to send them a bottle of wine with three glasses. The waiter promptly delivers the wine to the wrong table.  This sets in motion a comedy of errors, embarrassment and wordlessness as the three men try to get out of any entanglement with the three (far less pretty) girls they sent wine to, culminating in one of the men losing his wedding ring as he is removing it, and watching it roll to the feet of the one of the jilted girls.

When the dance is over the men discuss at great length their bitterness at not having lucked out with the girls, their unfulfilled marriages revealing that their lives are miserable too, only they don’t have the hope of youth. By this time they have lost Andula who has gone off with Milda.

Then I told her:

“You have a lovely blouse”

And she said “You fool

Why don’t you take it off?”

And I love her so much

(oh yeah yeah yeah)

And I love her so much

(Oh yeah yeah yeah)

My love for her was so great

It turned me into a hooligan.

The films second act comprises of two intimate conversations between lovers:  Mila and Andula in Andula’s room in the factory hostel and Andula and Tonda (officially Andula’s boyfriend) after work. In the first, Andula who is doused with naive optimism reveals herself emotionally as she reveals herself physically by showing Mila her scars from an attempted suicide and telling him in graphic detail the events surrounding the sucicide (if not the actual reason for it). Milda decides to teach her self-defence in case she finds herself in a situation where she may be compromised (an act that says we are parting in his mind and says I care for you in her mind) and this results in them falling on the bed embracing. The next scenes are erotic enough to warrant the film being banned for its explicit sexuality. Andula and Mila are clearly naked in the scene (this was important as prudishenss was part of the regime the film is battling). Still the scene is staged, focussing more on faces than bodies and faces talking and reacting rather that showing signs of erotic fervor. The only prolonged nude scene is of Mila when he tries to close the blind, revealing himself through the window, and the camera cutting cleverly as he turns back from his success. The two have post-coital misjudgements with each other, each making small allusions to others in teir lives. At the end of this scene there is a lovely moment where Andula dons Mila’s black coat as he sleeps, feeling the weight and texture of it as if it is a part of her.

In his interlude with Andula, Tonda spots she is no longer wearing his ring.  This leads to a messy and public breakup that attracts a cautionary lecture at a youth meeting about the importance of preserving ones honour. This is an important scene and one crucial to teh entire film, even though it is underplayed dramatically. the Prague spring is still three years away – the sensor still works well in Prague. A vote is taken on whether to make a pledge to improve their behaviour in regards to their honour. Andula, as far to the back of the room as she can sit, doesn’t raise her hand. Forman offers a scathing critique of notions of democracy  that in practise prove to be anything but.

Then I told her:

“You have a lovely skirt”

And she said “You fool,

Why doin’t you take it down?”

And I love her so much

(oh yeah yeah yeah)

And I love her so much

(Oh yeah yeah yeah)

My love for her was so great

It turned me into a hooligan.

For the films third and final (tragic hilarious) act, the scene shifts to Prage where Mila lives and works, playing piano and chatting up another girl. We know Andula has hitchhiked to meet him. He doesn’t know. Mila did actually give Andula the correct address, never telling her he lives with his parents – we are to assume he is either too ashamed of that fact or simply never imagined she would actually follow him. The film becomes very funny again when the film abandons Andula and focusses on the banter between Mila’s parents who squabble over Mila’s questionable morals and what to do with a girl who has shown up at their doorstep. The conversation between the parents echoes that of the middle-aged soldiers in regards to the disappointments and sadness related to a bad choice in a marraige.

Mrs Vasitova takes Andxula to task here and in (what should be) a very cruel way lectures her. This is lightened by the fact that both Andula and Mr Vasitova fall asleep during her tirade and she doesn’t realise it. When she does know that they have both fallen asleep, Mrs Vasitova opens Andulas case to find the spotted tie she had used to signal her fiance.  This has now become a symbol of Adulas lost loves.

By the time Mila arrives home he is shocked to see Andula there, and tries to sober himself up. His father is awake and true to a classic Freudian moment, gives Mila a full-scale attack in the absence of his wife who has gone to bed and stopped attacking Andual and himself. Andula wakes up during this tirade and is forced to hear every word that in theory dashes all her hopes and dreams. The lovers are reunited, but reality has now set in and they have become clumsy terrified children, not sure what to do with the situation they find themselves in. Milas mother, in a hilarious scene decides he can’t be trusted in his own bed, in which Andula sleeps, so she insists on his sleeping in between her and her own partner, his father. Of course another family row ensues, centred around Andula which, again, she is forced to listen to, being a witness without any opportunity of recourse.

After a quiet weep on her own, she returns home for the films final scene when Andula has converted the disaster into a full-blown romance and tells the story to an enraptured friends. But we are wiser, having witnessed reality. The scene echoes the prologue, and we now know we will never be fooled by this sort of discourse again.

Whatever you can do, whoever you need to trick, do it in order to see this marvelous, beautiful film.

 

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