One of the key movies of the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, Miloš Forman’s A Blonde in Love (original title: Lásky jedné plavovlásky) was also the director’s international breakout. Through a long career, individual freedom was Forman’s abiding concern. The oppressive force of totalising regimes and the stultifying power of received wisdom on individual liberty always played a powerful role in his movies, whether it was Jack Nicholson trying to get the inmates’ voices heard in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Mozart trying to find an audience for his music in Amadeus or Larry Flynt banging the drum for free speech in The People vs. Larry Flynt.
It’s the same here, though Forman, mindful of the authorities’ blue pencil, simply presents his opening scenario as a given – no further comment is made. There are 16 women to every one man in this benighted and isolated part of Czechoslovakia, where the authorities’ labour and conscription demands have skewed the natural order of things dramatically.
Andula (Hana Brejchová) is a pretty young blonde as keen to get a man as the rest of (female) co-workers at the shoe factory where she grinds out the day, and she’s as delighted as the rest of them when she learns that the factory supervisor has organised for the army to bus in a whole load of guys. What she and the other young women hadn’t realised is that the soldiers about to turn up are reservists – “old” guys and ugly to boot.
But needs must. And so the young women do their best, attending the dance more out of hope than expectation. In the film’s funniest scenes, which happen quite early on, Andula and her two friends Marie (Marie Salacová) and Jana (Jana Novaková) spend an evening eyeballing three dour middle aged soldiers who in turn are eyeballing the young women, neither side sure how to make the first move.
Instead of ending up with one of the pastry-faced reservists, who eventually get round to urging the girls to go for a walk in the woods with them, at night, Andula instead catches the eye of the pianist with the visiting band, Milda (Vladimir Pucholt), the only halfway young and handsome guy about. And soon, the title being a clue, has fallen hopelessly in love with him, unaware that for him she’s just a notch on the bedpost.
This is a beautifully constructed film – starting with hopes high it shades into comedy and then on to romance and finally a reckoning when Andula decides to go to Prague and seek out her “love”, only to come up against the iron curtain of Milda’s parents, more oppressive power relations.
It’s beautifully acted too, with most of the participants non-actors improvising their lines, like Josef Kolb, the real-life shoe factory supervisor who’s playing the shoe-factory supervisor we see on screen, with the odd “real” actor in there, Forman said, to keep the rhythm of the thing flowing.
And beautifully shot. Miroslav Ondrícek’s superb black and white cinematography doesn’t shout too loud – it would be out of keeping with the dowdy milieu and the semi-documentary approach – but his images are gorgeously composed. British director Lindsay Anderson visited halfway through Forman’s shoot, saw Ondrícek’s work and had soon contrived to whisk him away to the UK, where Ondrícek shot The White Bus, If… and O Lucky Man! for Anderson before being whisked off again to Hollywood.
It’s quite a gentle movie in many respects, guardedly presenting its criticism of the regime in terms of a personal story of the 1960s arriving in Czechoslovakia and turning a young woman’s head. It can plausibly be read as a critique of western values, the permissive society and all that. And, to an extent it is, but that’s to overlook how much the film identifies with Andula, and the performance of Hana Brejchová, as a young woman who simply wants more from life than life, and the regime, is offering her.
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© Steve Morrissey 2023