There is much about Milos Forman’s Loves of a Blonde that is comedic, yet it’s not a comedy, exactly.
There’s too much genuine wistfulness, rejection, and desperation percolating through it. Even the title is ironic.
But it feels absolutely real, as well it should.
He learned that she worked in a factory in a small town and had had a brief affair with an engineer visiting her plant. The man invited her to come see him in Prague and gave his address – an address which she now realized did not exist.
Forman talked with the woman until dawn, then put her on the train home. But her story struck him as emblematic of the mistakes we make when young, and six years later it found its way to film as Loves of a Blonde.
Our central character, Andula (Hana Brejchová, Forman’s sister-in-law at the time) lives in a dormitory with hundreds of other females who have been recruited (or perhaps ordered) to work in a shoe factory in a small provincial Czech town.
The time is the present, meaning 1964, four years before the country’s liberal leader Alexander Dubček would initiate the “Prague Spring” only to see it crushed beneath the treads of invading Soviet tanks.
Andula and her friends (they sleep in bunk beds, a half dozen to a room) are climbing the walls. Most of the local boys are in the army and the ratio of women to men is 16-to-1.
Early on the manager of the factory urges an Army bigwig to establish a military base near the burg so that the girls will have a fighting chance at finding mates.
“They need what we needed when we were young,” this father figure pleads.
Apparently his words have an effect, but the results aren’t what anyone expected. A military camp is created, yes, but it’s full of middle-aged reservists doing their annual training.
A big party is planned to welcome the boys in khaki, but it’s a drab affair, with the soldiers pocketing their wedding rings and trying to ply the ladies with cheap liquor. A few of the girls get up and dance to the pseudo-pop music being played by a band, but mostly it’s an atmosphere of disappointment and desperation.
It should be noted that Loves of a Blonde was made under Communism and funded by the Party, and would never have been approved had it contained any overt criticism of the status quo. Nevertheless, simply by employing a documentary eye and casting his movie mostly with non-professionals, Forman provides a damning look at life under totalitarianism.
Later Andula attends a female hygiene class in which the girls are essentially coerced into making a pledge to “improve themselves” (meaning no more promiscuity). Just Big Brother looking out for the proletariat.
Having blown off a trio of portly, balding soldiers, Andula is about to make her weary way back to the dorm when she encounters Milda (Vladimír Pucholt), the pianist with the touring band.
Milda, who looks a lot like the young Robert Morse, seems nice enough, though the more we hear him talk the more it seems like his non-threatening boyishness is part of a well-practiced act.
When Andula says she doesn’t trust him, he says she’s right to be cautious and tries to teach her some self-defense moves – which of course allow him to get up close and personal.
There’s some funny physical business with a malfunctioning windowshade in his institutional-looking hotel room, and then the two get down to business. In the afterglow Milda tells Andula that her body is like “a guitar by Picasso” and invites her to visit him in Prague.
A month later, suitcase in hand, she does just that, only to spend most of her visit with Milda’s shocked parents (he’s off playing a gig). Mama (Milada Jezková) treats this unannounced guest with barely concealed contempt, but Papa (Josef Sebánek) is, if not precisely welcoming, at least civil and thoughtful.
Neither character was played by a professional actor. Sebánek was the uncle of Forman’s cameraman, while the director met Jezková on a city streetcar. But the two give quietly funny performances as a working-class couple who have drifted into a state of weary cohabitation.
Most of Forman’s Czech films, in fact, employed both professionals and non-actors. The amateurs, he claimed, tended to make the pros behave in a more spontaneous manner, while the professionals used their training to steer each scene toward its intended emotional impact.
Part of the key, Forman said, was to never give a script to a non-actor.
“They’ll take it home to read, and their wives will end up directing your movie.”
Instead, Forman would before each shot tell his players what the scene had to accomplish, what needed to be expressed in the dialogue, and how their movements should be blocked. Invariably he found that their improvised responses were far more believable than an accurate reading of the written dialogue.
One of the few professional actors in the movie was Pucholt, who played Milda. A performer since childhood, he was within a year or two of Blonde’s release a major star in Czech films. But he defected to England in 1967, studied medicine, and now has a pediatric practice in Ottawa, Canada.
The movie put Forman on the international movie map. It was chosen as the opening title of the 1966 New York Film Festival and later nominated for the Academy Award for foreign language film.
Both events gave Forman a chance to travel outside Czechoslovakia, experience the freedoms of the West, and make contacts that would help him survive after 1968 when, while trying to raise money in France and Italy, he learned of the Soviet Bloc invasion of his homeland.
He decided not to return until Czechoslovakia was once again a free and independent country.
Other films in the series “Mondays with Milos”
Mondays at 6:30 p.m.:
- September 10: One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) Rated R
- September 17: Ragtime (1981) Rated PG
- September 24: Hair (1979) Rated PG
- October 1: Amadeus (1984) Rated PG
- October 8: The People vs. Larry Flynt (1996) Rated R
- October 15: Loves of a Blonde (1965) Not Rated
- October 22: Man on the Moon (1999) Rated R
- October 29: Goya’s Ghosts (2006) Rated R
Admission to these films is free.
About the Author
Robert W. Butler is a lifelong Kansas City area resident, a graduate of Shawnee Mission East High School and the William Allen White School of Journalism at the University of Kansas. For several decades he was the movie editor of the Kansas City Star; he now writes a movie-themed blog at butlerscinemascene.com. He joined the Library's Public Affairs team in 2012.