Lásky jedné plavovlásky (Loves of a Blonde) is a hybrid film. It brilliantly walks the thin line between bitter and sweet, between understated tragic situations and moments of comic relief. It is a feature film, but one organised like a documentary. Its main concern is not to follow the development of a dramatic plot or a character, but to employ its sequences to shed light on a number of social issues. The film is also hybrid in its casting, mixing professional actors – Vladimír Pucholt (Mila) and Vladimír Mensík (the leading soldier seducer) – and non-actors – Hana Brejchová (Andula) and Milada Jezková (Mila’s mother).
The themes developed by Loves of a Blonde involve the social perception of sexual relations, pop culture and workers’ alienation in communist Czechoslovakia. Every episode of the film depicts and comments on them. Andula, “the blonde”, is the film’s investigative instrument. She is also, at the same time, a product of her world, a witness and a rebel. Her perspective is one of the multiply oppressed: a runaway child from an abusive family; a young woman exposed to gender prejudice and predatory seduction practices; and a member of a working class administered by a callous managerial and political apparatus.
The rise of pop and youth culture, social rebellion and sexual liberation were the hot social phenomena of the 1960s in both Eastern and Western Europe. Forman’s film presents their particular Czechoslovak version and variation. Shot in 1965 and released in 1966, Loves of a Blonde’s finding is that in spite of the Communist Party’s talk of radical social transformation, Czechoslovak culture is comically retarded. While the West’s dance halls are roaring with The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” (released in 1965), the workers under communism still dance to grandmother’s polkas or to the tamed jazz rhythms of the fifties. The early 1960s Beatlemania has not infected the Communist Bloc yet, and the Bloc’s musical production has not been revolutionised by the emergence of the electric guitar.
This is not to say that, as US-sponsored Cold War propaganda had it, beat music and rock ‘n’ roll were genuine expressions of freedom and democracy. Critics of the Western culture industry, who saw in pop music only a seductive apparatus of social control, might have even appreciated the Communist Bloc’s efforts to protect its working class from “the corrupting agitation” of rock ‘n’ roll. Forman’s film, however, suggests that the Communist Bloc’s efforts to protect its youth from these brainwashing rhythms engendered only sterile isolationism. Socialist democracies behind the Iron Curtain were not able to foster a believable alternative youth culture that could carry the emancipatory impulses of the younger generation. In Loves of a Blonde isolation is tantamount to the rule of the old (1).
Forman’s humour originates in his depictions of his countrymen’s uncool behavior on the dance floor, their old-fashioned seduction strategies and their lame sexual vocabulary. Forman’s compassionate portrayal of the proletariat, his interest in dance halls, non-actors and psychological opaqueness, have inspired commentators to compare his films with Ermanno Olmi’s Il posto (1961) and I fidanzati (The Fiances, 1963). Both filmmakers focus on young and docile workers in order to trace the way in which the social environment harmfully changes them, alienating them from their true interests (2).
The difference between Olmi and Forman’s films is that the former’s depict the predicament of the working class in a capitalist political system. Olmi’s worker is alienated by the seductive consumer culture of Western Europe’s post-war economic boom. Loves of a Blonde shows that alienation works differently in the East. The Eastern European worker is ruled by a political elite, accustomed to dictatorial practices, who won’t even bother to control its subjects by producing seductive images of a better life. The legends of brainwashing behind the Iron Curtain are false. There is no revolution unfolding in communist Czechoslovakia, only careless and repressive herding into political docility and ignorance.
Loves of a Blonde doesn’t call uncritically for a Western-style update of Czechoslovak youth culture. From a musical standpoint, Forman was a jazz fan, a music that, with the rise of bebop, left the dance halls and became, in the 1960s, an educated genre or form (3). His musical preference translates into a political standpoint. Forman mocks the pop phenomenon (on both sides of the Iron Curtain) as a discourse that cannot produce self-consciousness. This is why Loves of a Blonde’s reflexive moments are marked by jazz music (both diegetic and non-diegetic).
Modern jazz informs not only Forman’s perspective on culture and alienation, but also the structure of his film. Forman is known to shoot many miles of footage and spend long hours in the editing room. Loves of a Blonde is a montage of cinematic improvisations organised, like jazz, around certain themes. Its narrative unit is the situation. Characters improvise within this framework like various instruments of a band. Many of these situations can be broken down into gags. There are several such gags reminiscent of early comedy in Loves of a Blonde: the soldiers-getting-off-the-train gag; the wine-bottle gag; the wedding-ring gag; the palm-reading gag; the roll-up-blinds gag; and the three-guys-in-two-beds gag. There are also memorable character improvisations, such as Mila’s “Picasso ramblings” and his mother’s dining-table rants.
Forman’s film also comments, again mixing irony and compassion, on the possibility of youth rebellion in communist Czechoslovakia. Naive and subdued, Andula, who has the courage to drop her violent boyfriend, leave town and follow her desire, is her dorm’s (and the film’s) rebel. She is one of the earliest characters, if not the first, of Czechoslovak cinema to be seen almost naked in good lighting and in a frontal shot.
Rebellion is the main theme of Forman’s cinematic work. In his Czechoslovak films such as Loves of a Blonde and Black Peter, the ironic take prevails; while in those made for the hope-marketing American film industry the tragic but redemptive element predominates – from Taking Off (1971), through One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Ragtime (1981), to Goya’s Ghosts (2006). The initial sequence of Loves of a Blonde illustrates Forman’s take on the marriage of pop culture and youth rebellion in Czechoslovakia. A young worker is singing, with limited skill, a rock ‘n’ roll number. Her haircut and her clothes are nerdy, her voice imprecise, and her body language hesitant. The song’s lyrics, however, talk about how she has become a “hooligan”. This is the tragic-comic face of youth rebellion in communist Czechoslovakia. It lacks edge, and, more importantly, it takes place mostly in the realm of the imagination. Pop culture, or at least its Czechoslovak version, does not produce rebels. It is only a medium through which a rebellious impulse is consumed without causing significant social or political subversion.
- This “rule of the old” is even better depicted in Forman’s next film, Horí, má panenko (The Firemen’s Ball, 1967).
- Forman’s 1964 film Cerný Petr (Black Peter) has a similar hero.
- He and the writer and film critic Josef Škvorecký even worked on a film script with a jazz topic.
Lásky jedné plavovlásky/Loves of a Blonde (1966 Czechoslovakia 88 mins)
Prod Co: CBK/Filmové Studio Barrandov/Sebor Prod: Rudolf Hájek, Vlado Hreljanovic Dir: Milos Forman Scr: Milos Forman, Jaroslav Papousek, Ivan Passer, Václav Sasek Phot: Miroslav Ondrícek Ed: Miroslav Hájek Prod Des: Karel Cerný Mus: Evzen Illín
Cast: Hana Brejchová, Vladimír Pucholt, Vladimír Mensík, Milada Jezková, Ivan Kheil, Jirí Hrubý