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Loves of a Blonde: The Criterion Collection

Home Vision Entertainment

Starring Hanu Brejchovou and Vladimira Pucholta

Written by Milos Forman, Jaroslav Papousek, Ivan Passer
Directed by Milos Forman

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Review by D. K. Holm                    

The best way to achieve world fame in the cinema is to associate your name with a world-famous movie. Not just any world famous movie, but one that redefines the art form. If you can get that kind of association, your name will become a noun for a certain trend or style in cinema, and your mug will be plastered on general film books that are trying to look up to date or serious. Welles had his Citizen Kane. Tarantino had his Reservoir Dogs. In his smaller way, Milos Forman had Loves of a Blonde (or "Lasky jedne plavovlasky," which apparently actually means "A Blond in Love"), a film that announced a "new wave" of films out of Eastern Europe that seemed funnier and more real than anything else at the time.

There are two reasons that Loves of a Blonde was popular upon its western release in 1966, premiering at the New York Film Festival and enjoying an Oscar nomination for best foreign film. The first reason was that it was funny. But the real reason was that it contained a sex scene. At a time when Hollywood was making a decades-long transition to franker, adult subjects with nudity in them, viewers were still rushing out to see the latest films from Italy, France, and Sweden because they promised exotic looking people in stories that promised disrobing, if not outright boffing.

This shouldn't minimize the historical importance of Loves of a Blonde, which though it does have a lengthy (if discreet by today's standards) sex scene, is more important as a gateway to a handful of now world-famous directors. If the film today seems much less of a solid whole, that's perhaps due to finally seeing it clearly and outside the context of critical bias of the time working hard to make the film into something it wasn't.

*          *          *

The story of Loves of a Blonde is relatively slight. Andula (Hanu Brejchovou, sister of Forman's then wife) has been relocated and lives in a dormitory in Zruc, where she works in a shoe factory under the benevolent supervision of Prkorny (Josef Kolb, who also appears in The Firemen's Ball). Like the rest of the girls, she is guy-hungry. But the town has a severe man shortage, and Prkorny urges the Communist administration and the army to arrange to install a base nearby. Although Andula already has a boyfriend, she seems dissatisfied, and when Prkorny succeeds and a group of soldiers show up in town, Andula goes to a ball welcoming them, even though the men are a disappointing collection of old, balding hacks. Instead, Andula ends up flirting with Milda (Vladimira Pucholta), the visiting Prague pianist for the band on stage. They spend the night together and Andula gets it into her head that Milda wants her to move in with him back in Prague. Milda, however, is a rougé-type familiar from Eastern European literature and films, who has no intention of settling down. Not knowing this, however, Andula naively takes a bus to Prague and manages to find Milda's house and his less-than-glamorous living conditions. Milda is out performing (and trying to pick up another girl, in a deleted scene), but Milda's parents (Josef Sebanek and Milada Jezkova) allow her to stay the night. When Milda returns, he is shocked to find Andula there, and his mother, in a fit of propriety, insists that he stay in the bed with them, where parents and child proceed to bicker in the most annoying way. In an epilogue, we learn that Andula has returned to the dorm and her job.

Loves of a Blonde is a fine, if slight film, very much in the spirit of the French new wave. French filmmakers recognized this and Claude Berry, Truffaut and others celebrated Forman and were instrumental in making his reputation in the west. Shot in realistic, almost documentary-style black and white by Miroslav Ondricek, with a narrative presented in series of large, lengthy scenes (possibly an influence on Jim Jarmusch and Stranger Than Paradise), the film is more intent on wandering off on tangents than on concentrating on the main thread of the story. And these periods of straying from the main thrust of a scene, which are probably meant to celebrate and explore character, actually end up dissipating its energy. This tendency, plus the fact that neither Andula nor Milda are explored with any depth, and that Milda's parents are repetitious parodies, render Loves of a Blonde a disappointing experience.

The principal problem with Loves of a Blonde is that, at least today, it isn't funny enough to elevate its slight material to a higher level. In addition, the film withholds a lot about the characters while letting sequences play at length without going anywhere. Ultimately, we don't really know that much about Andula and her motivation. Scenes go on forever: three soldiers wavering about how to flirt with Andula and her two friends at another table; Milda sharing a bed with his strict mother and exhausted father — both last too long without commensurate payoff.

The pressing question for film students, though, is how did the guy who made Loves of a Blonde end up being the same guy who made Man in the Moon? The early films of Milos Forman have a spontaneous feeling, due to his work's Nouvelle Vague-style photography and his blending of amateurs with professional (or at least experienced) actors. But the most important aspect of his early films is that they are based on real events or observations. Loves of a Blonde was born of Forman's striking up a conversation with a woman who was struggling down the street with a suitcase. He bought her coffee and got her whole story, which mirrors the movie version. The Firemen's Ball is likewise based on an actual event experienced by Forman and his screenwriting partners. Even Forman's first American movie, 1971's Taking Off (a minor masterpiece), is rooted in observations about the then-unexpected but soon common problem of teenage runaways.

Since then, however, Forman has specialized in literary adaptations of historical subjects. In his autobiography, Turnaround, Forman admits that, "While preparing Valmont... I finally had to admit to myself that, in America, I'd found my métier in period films." Yet he adds that he views himself as "extremely literal and earthbound, and I need to ground my films in plausible, naturalistic worlds." Sadly, this doesn't jibe with outlandish subject matter such as Larry Flynt, Amadeus Mozart, or Andy Kaufman, real as they may actually have been, or the rogues of Valmont itself. Still, Forman's Hollywood films succeed when he brings a breath of reality to elaborate settings, such as the exploration of intense jealousy in the Oscar-pleasing Amadeus. When his penchant for naturalism is not engaged, those films (Ragtime, The Man in the Moon) can feel airless and tight.

*          *          *

Criterion's DVD release of Loves of a Blonde is a fine addition to the series of Eastern European films (derived from its sister Janus Collection) the company has released recently, including The Shop on Main Street and Closely Watched Trains. Neither this film nor The Firemen's Ball ever made it to Laserdisc, so the company had an opportunity to do some groundbreaking restoration work. In the case of Loves of a Blonde, it's a new, clean digital transfer of the black and white, full-frame (1.33:1) film, with an adequate Dolby Digital 1.0 track, and newly revised digital English subtitles.

Subsidiary material includes a 16-minute video interview with Forman that throws some light on the making of the film (though not as much as in his autobiography) and a deleted scene, which fits in chronologically just before chapter 11 on the disc. It's a nice, and nicely acted, little scene that reasserts how much Milda is an untrustworthy louse. Also included is a six-page booklet with an informative essay by David Kehr.

— D.K. Holm

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