Loves of a Blonde [Lásky jedné plavovlásky] (1965)

Milos Forman's Loves of a Blonde is a story of Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia during the early 1960's. It is also a story of the romantic adventures of Andula (Hana Brejchova), the blonde, a young girl who is trying to find a place and an identity of her own in the regimented and tightly controlled, "centrally planned" world of that time period.

The film never gets as heavy-handed as that might sound, however. What is portrayed is the daily life of one girl. Her own struggles and emotions are very real, and so is the context in which they take place. However, the context is also absurd, because she lives in an absurd system. The humor of the film and the reality of the situation are not, as in some films, separable. There are no jokes or one-liners which interrupt the flow of the story. The hilarity does not build, but rather stays on a rather steady level. There is a remarkable unity of content and the method of the storytelling, which is slow and even, is astutely and humorously reproduced from reality.

Milos Forman, the director, was a leading director of the Czech New Wave in the 1960's. He is also one of only two working directors (along with Oliver Stone) to have won the Academy Award for Best Director more than once (for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus). Loves of a Blonde is his second feature film, and he is already completely assured and masterful in his storytelling.

Andula, our heroine, works in a shoe factory and lives in a factory dormitory with the other girls who work there. Due to the centrally planned nature of the Czechoslovakian economy, many young people are assigned to work in factories which are, like Andula's, organized according to gender. Her shoe factory is exclusively female; other factories and the army are exclusively male.

The dilemma of poor central planning is set out obviously, but not as a problem set aside from the rest of the story. Rather, these political elements are integrated throughout the story. For instance, near the beginning of the film, we see the directors of the factory trying to brainstorm a way to bring their charges in contact with some men. While well intentioned, this plan fails because it does not take into account all of the factors which need to be considered. Of course, the point is that all of the factors which need to be taken into account for nearly any decision, especially on a mass scale, can never be taken into account, and to attempt such a thing is arrogant and irresponsible. Forman doesn't make this point (or any point in the film) too sternly, however. He seems to have a real understanding of and affection for the real people caught in their dilemma, and their closely observed behavior is presented as ironic, funny and touching at the same time.

Due to the isolation of their little factory world, the girls tend toward flighty, brief relationships with the men of the area. Andula has one boyfriend she is just about to see when she meets a border guard near where she was supposed to meet the first boyfriend. Later, she flirts briefly with the soldiers brought in to provide some kind of male contact to the isolated girls of the factory, and still later she sees a piano player from Prague. It is the piano player who leads us on through the rest of the story.

Andula meets the piano player, Milda (Josef Sebanek), at the same party where she has been flirting (however unwillingly) with the reserve soldiers brought in for a dance. She follows him upstairs to where he is staying. He proceeds to flirt/cajole/trick/seduce her into bed rather winningly. Their love scene and the surrounding circumstances are movingly shot. Perhaps it is my own idiosyncrasy, but the most moving scenes on film to me are those in which one character needs something much more than another but cannot ask for it, or when a character does ask for something she has no right to ask for and is given it freely--their love scene fits the former. Andula is so vulnerable and desperate that one cannot help but feel for her.

It is a wonderful feature of the film that no single incident truly grabs the plot and moves it forward as the most important or defining element. Each scene, rather, graphically illustrates the frustration Andula feels. It has the texture of real life. After we meet each new man Andula sees, we are shown Andula speaking to some of her friends about him. She describes almost every one as "the one"...then seemingly forgets all about him when the next one comes along. We get the feeling that if the piano player hadn't been "the straw to break the camel's back," someone else would have been. Andula is stuck in her life and she knows it. The best way out is going to be the way she chooses, whatever it is. The details can all be sorted out later.

One hilarious scene is when the girls of the dormitory gather together for a group meeting. Their "house mother" urges them all to be careful of their reputations so that they can keep themselves worthy of marriage, and the "president" of the dormitory proposes that the girls make this commitment as a group. The "vice president" (who opens the film singing a rather dissolute, Beatles-esque rock song) proposes to put it to a vote. All of the girls vote for the pledge except for Andula, who abstains. The editing provides the punchline: the next shot is Andula hitchhiking on the highway. She cannot join herself to such a pledge. It is her only way out. To have voted for such a thing would have been a surrender to her surroundings, which are the only things she is fighting against.

Andula hitchhikes to Prague and makes her way to Milda's apartment. What follows must be one of the most accurate domestic scenes in all of the cinema. Milda's parents, of course, are not expecting Andula. Milda is not expecting Andula; he assumed that his encounter with her (which meant so much more to her than to him) was simply a one-night stand. Andula's time alone with the parents is a wonderful, long, drawn-out sequence of perfectly modulated questioning, confrontation, and complaint. Like Steven Spielberg once said of Martin Scorsese's films, you get the feeling that you are eavesdropping on someone's real life, so much so that you become slightly embarrassed for them. The sequence continues in the same vein when Milda comes home, with the same kind of drawn-out conversation among the family members, while Andula waits in the corner of the front room.

The disastrous visit ends and Andula eventually returns to her factory. Andula tells her friend that she will probably be going back to visit a lot, though we know that is probably not true. She also recalls to her friend that Milda's father (Vladimir Pucholt) was wonderful--idealizing the situation, for sure, but we also get the feeling that she may have learned something. After all, Milda's father really was wonderful to her. So perhaps she will begin to look at men differently, more realistically, and not just as a ticket out. Which leaves her still in need of a ticket, but that's another matter....

Links for Loves of a Blonde (Lásky jedné plavovlásky)

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