Thursday, 31 March 2011

A Blonde In Love (Lásky jedné plavovlásky) (Miloš Forman, 1965) DVD Review

Hana Brejchová and Vladimír Pucholt in A Blonde In Love (1965)

Note: I ought to start up a sub-feature called 'Seriously Late Reviews', as this is another release I'm terribly behind on. Loves Of A Blonde was released through Second Run DVD on 24th January 2011.

Miloš Forman's A Blonde In Love ends as it begins; to the tones of a girl singing. In the beginning it is upbeat; an acoustic Beatles-esque pop song with catchy hooks and lyrics about true love. The song is optimistic and hopeful of romance. In the end it is more mournful; a hymn-type song, almost ethereal. The song is mourning the impossibility and deception of young love, and its sadness is disarming. What happens inbetween these songs is a profoundly bittersweet drama about young courtship and sexual machinations. In the industrial town of Zruc there is an unbalance in the ratio of men to women. In fact, there are 16 girls to every one man. So when it is announced that soldiers will be coming in to provide comfort for the girls they are dismayed to find a platoon of balding, grumpy, middle-aged men who march into town singing "through smoking ruins and rivers of blood the avenging armies march on..." What follows is an extended party sequence and a portrait of mannered embarrassment, recalling Forman's 1967 follow-up feature The Fireman's Ball. There is another link between these films - they are shaded stabs at bureaucracy. Famously the Czech government took against The Fireman's Ball and banned it "forever", but the superior A Blonde In Love is much more subtle in its approach, and has more raw honesty in the arcs of its characters.

Actually, if it weren't for the sociopolitical subtext the film would have a timeless quality. The beautiful black and white photography by Miroslav Ondrícek makes the story seem like a framed memory - a picture of youth we can all look on to reflect our own lives. As it is the outdated bureaucratic jabbing stagnates the film somewhat; not as badly as The Fireman's Ball though, which to me now feels more like a political essay than a story of human kindness. So what ensures that the film is worth recommending is Forman's typically adept and humanistic approach to his characters, who are flawed but endearing. The three bumbling middle-aged soldiers who take a shine to three teenage girls could come across as leery and desperate, but in fact they're quite sympathetic. They accidentally order champagne to the wrong table, attracting the attentions of less attractive middle-aged women who they then have to hide from. One of the men tries to hide his wedding ring but it slips out of his pocket when he gets up to dance. He chases it across the room, much to the embarrassment of his comrades and amusement of the teenage girls, as he ends up at the table of women to whom he accidentally sent the champagne. Later on he gets tired, as we all would, of the girls chatting in the ladies toilet. He goes home, and we never see him again. The other two men fare equally as badly, but it's to the credit of Forman, who paints his characters with pathos and warmth, that they are never creepy. Central girl Andula (Hana Brejchová) could also be seen in a bad light; a naïve tease who easily gives into the whim of her young male suitor, and soon ends up following the empty invitation of coming to his home. When she does it sparks a hilarious (but quite caustic) marital row, which only escalates when the boy (Vladimír Pucholt) - himself a troubling womanizer - returns home to be scolded by his mother. He is made to sleep in the same bed as his parents. What follows is like a comedic sketch, but played with the same deft compassion that makes Forman's work so great.

I really enjoyed A Blonde In Love, for all of its flaws. In 2011 the film is slightly bogged down by its broader messaging and sneering at political policy; the characters are definitely painted as victims of the system - consequences of a broken country. But at its heart A Blonde In Love is a tale of fraught and deceitful romance, a tale of lies and empathy. If you look past Forman's implicative nature you'll be rewarded by the talents in him which became most prevalent in his American work; his skills as a craftsman and dramatist. Terrific performances, cringe-inducing humour and beautiful imagery combine to one of the most purely enjoyable films in the Czech New Wave canon. Seek it out...

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