June 12, 2013 by abbyo
And so it begins! Welcome to No More Popcorn’s New Wave Summer. Over the next few weeks, we’re going to explore films from the Czech and French new wave movements. I’m kicking off the summer series by looking at Milos Forman’s “Loves of a Blonde,” the director’s international breakthrough, and one of the most popular movies of the Czech New Wave.
But we’ll get to Mr. Forman in a bit. First, some information about the Czech New Wave. In the 60s, Czechoslovakia (as it then was) was under communist rule. The Czech New Wave was an artistic movement made up of dissenting art students. The goal was to make films that highlighted the brutality and incompetence of the communist system. As a result, the movies coming from this movement tend to be dark satires. The Czech New Wave continued through what’s called the Prague Spring, a short-lived period of liberalism in the late 60s. But the USSR quickly put the kibosh on whatever advances that made. Directors who didn’t leave the country ended up facing strict censorship guidelines.
Of the Czech New Wave directors, Milos Forman is the most recognizable, due to his continued success outside of his homeland. In addition to movies like “The Firemen’s Ball” and today’s pick, Forman directed “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus,” among other well-regarded films. But it was “Loves of a Blonde” that first got him international recognition.
“Loves of a Blonde” takes place in a factory town in Czechoslovakia. Andula is a teenage girl who works with a platoon of other teenage girls in a shoe factory. Because the factory employs almost exclusively women, the gender ratio of the town (16 women to every man) is disproportionate to say the least. Understandably, Andula and her friends are pretty desperate for boyfriends. So desperate, in fact, that they’re even willing to go after the middle-aged, mostly married reservist soldiers who set up camp in town. At a dance, Andula meets Milda, a young pianist, and they spend the night together. The rakish Milda mentions offhand that Andula should visit him in Prague. Andula naively takes Milda at his word, and shows up on his parents’ doorstep a week later. Things do not go well.
Forman used a mix of professional actors and non-actors in this movie, and the results are something special. “Loves of a Blonde” has an almost documentary-like feel to it, and its funniest moments often spring from improvised lines in realistic situations. Milda’s mother, for example, is one of the film’s highlights. She’s a yappy, whiny old biddy, a textbook old-school disapproving mom. Forman found her on a city bus.
But for all its charm and genuine comedy, “Loves of a Blonde” also has a wicked dark side. At its heart, this is a story about a girl being taken advantage of, and we’re never allowed to forget that. The scene where Andula and Milda hook up begins with him sweetly flirting with her, and then getting her to come to his room (she doesn’t want to go at first). Once she’s up there, Milda tries to make out with her, flips her onto the bed and convinces her to sleep with him. Granted, it doesn’t take much convincing. Andula likes Milda enough that she wants to trust him, but knows she probably shouldn’t, having met him only a few hours before. But she feels pressured to just go with it, so she does.
A later scene in a classroom plays like a modern feminist’s worst nightmare. In it, a teacher lectures a room full of girls on the importance of virtue in a woman, claiming that if a girl is too freewheeling, then she’s inviting boys to treat her badly. Anyone familiar with the term “slut-shaming” is likely to watch this scene slack-jawed, as I did. That this scene takes place in a town where women vastly outnumber men just makes it more ironic.
If Forman is trying to point out the struggles of younger generations living under a narrow-minded rule, then “Loves of a Blonde” succeeds. It’s pointed, realistic, and funny without being absurd. In fact, it probably plays even stronger with the passage of time, since modern audiences will almost immediately pick up on themes that might have seemed more subtle at the time it was released. For a while, “Loves of a Blonde” was the most popular movie in the Czech Republic, which is pretty cool considering it’s not the most immediately accessible of films. “Loves of a Blonde” is an interesting entry point to the world of the Czech New Wave, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of what this movement has to offer.