Lásky jedné plavovlásky (1965)


(director/writer: Milos Forman; screenwriters: Ivan Passer/Vaclav Sasek /Jaroslav Papousek; cinematographer: Miroslav Ondricek; editor: Miroslav Hajek; music: Evzen Hilin; cast: Hana Brejchová (Andula), Vladimír Pucholt (Milda), Vladimír Mensík (Vacovsky), Ivan Kheil (Manas), Jirí Hruby (Burda), Milada Jezková (Milda’s Mother), Josef Sebanek (Milda’s Father), Jana Novaková (Jana), Marie Salacová (Marie), Antonin Blazejovsky (Tonda), Josef Kolb (Prkorny); Runtime: 82; Barrandov Studios/Janus Films/Criterion Film Collection; 1965-Czech)
“… its simple but meaningful story has captured the emotions of its subject in a timeless and real fashion.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Milos Forman’s second feature is a diamond in the rough satire, that is smartly shot in black and white. Its mostly nonprofessional actors improvise and give this film its poignancy. It’s a perceptive and touching black comedy dramatization about a factory girl in Communist-controlled Czechoslovakia during the early 1960s, who is battling her childhood demons and her current sadness in working at a dead-end job in the middle of nowhere and not finding anyone she can trust or love. She’s trapped in a bleak world without a future, where the State has taken the spark out of ordinary life by its poor central planning. The dullish State values are rigidly enforced by leaders who have lost touch with the workers, as the ones in charge pretend that everything is being done for the people’s benefit. The film became an international favorite and won the Oscar for Best Foreign Film of 1966. This is a seminal work of the Czech New Wave; its simple but meaningful story has captured the emotions of its subject in a timeless and real fashion.

The film opens on a happy note, as some of the factory girls living in an all-female factory dormitory in the rural town of Zruc are expressing their optimism for things improving by playing a lively Beatles-esque rock song while strumming on their guitars. Andula (Hana Brejchová-the sister of Forman’s first wife) is the young and attractive blonde heroine of the story. She’s a sad eyed shoe-factory worker, who is first seen showing off to one of her envious co-workers that her boyfriend Tonda (Blazejovsky) gave her a diamond ring. But he has vanished for the last month and hasn’t returned when promised, leaving her dejected. Her next adventure is with a married border guard. He approaches her in the woods and flirts with her where she wrapped a tie around a tree as a present for the errant Tonda, it’s the spot of their expected reunion.

The kindly father figure factory boss talks the army into stationing an army unit in his town rather than elsewhere, because he says there are not enough young men for the girls–the females outnumber the males 16 to 1. But the girls are disappointed that they sent reservists who are mostly older married men. The factory, which is only allowed to employ females, organizes a dance at the local pub attended by the military and the factory girls. Andula is at a table with her two equally desperate factory girlfriends, Marie and Jana. They are being ogled by three unattractive middle-aged men at a table nearby, who send them a bottle of complimentary wine that is at first delivered to the wrong table. One of the men loses his wedding band when he takes it off and has to retrieve it as it rolls under the table of the three unattractive factory girls the wine was mistakenly delivered to. Andula is attracted to the young pianist who traveled here from Prague, Milda (Pucholt-he’s the professional actor). At the evening’s end, she deserts her friends and the unappealing army men and gets roped in by the pianist’s corny lines of romance. He brings her up to his room on the pretext of reading her palms, as he manages to get the wary but naive girl from a divorced home, who attempted suicide as a teenager because she couldn’t get along with her mother, to go to bed with him for the evening. Afterwards, he proclaims his love for her by stating over and over: “I do not have a girlfriend in Prague.” He then invites her to visit him in Prague, which she takes seriously but he doesn’t.

The next weekend Andula hitchhikes to Prague and she comes late at night with a suitcase to the apartment of Milda’s unappreciative parents. The womanizing pianist is out for the night, and the flustered parents don’t know what to do with the stranger since Milda never mentioned her. His father (Sebanek) is decent enough to offer her a bed for the night and is not perturbed that his idiot son has a secret girlfriend, but the nagging mother (Jezková) is confused by this upsetting visit and what it will mean for her son, as she relentlessly grills the girl and offers her no comfort. She’s also concerned about what the neighbors will think of her son inviting a single girl to spend the night with him. When Milda returns just before dawn, Andula sees that the situation here is hopeless. But when she returns to her dorm, she tells her friends that everything went well and she plans many visits to Prague.

The humor is displayed in a delicate and sweet way, nevertheless it cuts into the Communist system and the way it bungled things in Czechoslovakia. The scenes in the dance hall and in Milda’s parents’ home are powerful because the characters are forced into defending themselves at every turn by talking in circles and the precise timing of their conversations effectively gives voice to the comedy. It was also quite funny to see how this dysfunctional family made a mountain out of a molehill. The mother acting as the overly protective universal mother, one that many of the viewers will think of as just like their mother, forces her son to sleep in the same bed with her and his by now grouchy father. That comedy scene could have been found in a Marx Brothers film. But what is unmasked at every turn, is the sadness of the factory girls and the real affection Forman shows for his subjects. In its simple telling of the blonde’s story, there’s a great depth that has been presented about her life and those like her.