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The Reeler Blog

Forman Face-Off Comes to MoMA

By Miriam Bale

The Museum of Modern Art kicks off its two-week Milos Forman retrospective tonight with the director himself introducing his 1965 film Loves of a Blonde, a valentine to the seduced and abandoned. (The film moves to BAM tomorrow for a one-week run.) There are 16 women for every man in the small Czech town where Loves is set, and the beautiful and sullen Andula (Hana Brejchová) can't get a break. Ranging from goofy to gross, all of her love interests treat her poorly until one sweet dweeb simply describes to her what her body looks like. She falls in love -- hard.

Vladimír Pucholt and Hana Brejchová in Loves of a Blonde, the opening-night film of MoMA's Milos Forman retrospective

What follows is a sad pop song of a film, like a Communist-era Sofia Coppola portrait of dreamy girls gazing out the windows of their lives' misfortune (except in this case the misfortune is very real). Forman finds just the right angles to make banality look lovely, but viewers are never allowed to penetrate Andula's glare as things happen to her. Compare this to Vera Chytilov's 1967 film Daisies, another key entry in the Czech New Wave that feels like it was made as a reaction to those limitations of Forman's surface depiction of the inner life of a young woman. (Their split grew even more dramatic over the years; Chytilov showcased these differences in her 1981 film Chytilov Versus Forman, screening next week as part of the MoMA retrospective.)

Both Daisies and Loves begin with bracingly pop intros to two friends, one blond and one brunette, confessing to each other their thoughts on love. But while Loves views these obviously misguided sweet nothings from a skeptical distance, foreshadowing the inevitable shattering of their girlish fantasy, Daisies' characters Marie I and Marie II impose their glorious delusions -- which, because of their unity, are a world in themselves -- on to others. It's a call to arms, messily anarchistic but never defeatist.

Chytilov and Forman graduated from the same Czech film school in the early '60s, launching careers at the same time using similarly playful editing techniques. By these two films, though, their differences are clear: a dramatic aesthetic split informed by different political vantage points (or perhaps vice versa). Forman emigrated to the United States to make mainstream films, eventually winning Oscars for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Amadeus. Chytilov meanwhile, who stayed in their home country through violent politcal upheavals, continues to be a rabble-rouser: She was recently arrested for filming a movie about a nudist colony in Germany and, in a high-profile interview with the Guardian of London, she asked her interviewer haughtily: "Is your newspaper a serious one? You ask pointless and primitive questions."

While Chytilov believes in direct needling to the point of abrasiveness, Forman was always an observer. He turned this distance into a strength in 1971 his first American film, Taking Off. Here, it's the observer who's observed and parodied. The film starts out as another exploration of youth culture (like Loves and Forman's 1979 adaptation of the musical Hair) yet ultimately is not about a runaway hippie teen but rather her clueless parents. Through a cloud of ashes and booze and sickly sweet concern, they can't quite see their daughter -- who she is or where she goes -- and their panic about this erupts into an epic farce. Buck Henry is particularly good as the father, bumblingly disdainful of everything -- especially himself. "How the hell did I end up in this role of myself?" he seems to ask himself with each subtle shift in his expression, taking each absurd plot twist with increasingly more solemnity.

Seduced and Abandoned is a regular feature about repertory cinema highlights in New York. Miriam Bale programs the monthly series The Movie Night Disco at Frank's Lounge in Fort Greene.

Posted at February 14, 2008 3:03 PM

Comments (1)

Thought Loves ofaBlonde was a most interesting andthought-provoking film for its time and well-acted by its two stars.

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