Dir. Milos Forman. Starring Hana Brejchova, Vladimir Pucholt, Milada Jezkova
Watch enough movies or TV, especially the recent stuff, and you start to get used to the idea of young people being played by…other young people, I guess, but people who aren’t anything like the age group they’re portraying. Jesse Eisenberg and Andrew Garfield were in their mid-20s and playing college students in The Social Network, for example. Cory Monteith and Mark Salling were both pushing thirty when they were playing high schoolers on Glee; they were twice as far away from being the age of actual high schoolers as they were from the age of the guy playing their teacher.
That makes watching an eighteen-year-old Hana Brejchova, playing inexperienced Andula, feel especially striking. She and her friends look impossibly young; they have round faces and pudgy cheeks, eyes lacquered with makeup but nothing to cover the freckles. Andula, Jana, and Marie are all factory girls living in a dormitory in a community where there are something like sixteen girls to every man. Andula curls up with her bunkmates in girlish fashion, whispering about a wedding ring. Anyone who’s spent time with teenagers as an adult, or perhaps those of us who are unusually gifted at analyzing our own histories, instantly recognizes the vulnerability and posturing. They are not a mature bunch, but they work all the time and will, presumably, work at this factory for the rest of their lives. The girls at the factory are forced to playact as adults in the most dull and unfortunate ways. As for men: they are utter strangers, and the forced interactions dreamed up by the matchmaker factory foreman don’t seem like they’ll be terribly helpful in making the opposite sex more familiar.
In one scene, three army reservists, each one middle-aged and pudgy, stare nervously but at least a little knowingly at the girls. The men, excepting one froggy specimen, are hesitant to cast their dice in their direction. The froggy man fires an opening salvo with a bottle of wine sent to their table; unfortunately it’s a clear misfire, landing at the table of more appropriately aged women next to the girls. It is a moment of real grace; no one’s been looking at the middle-aged factory workers, they would doubtless be better matches for their middle-aged comrades, and the girls are relieved that they won’t have to manage the unfamiliar expectations of the “soldiers.” But the froggy man intervenes, getting the waiter to (cringe) pull back the bottle, give it to the right table, and the awkwardness really ensues. (I am personally fond of how one of the men, who feels guilty about cheating on his wife, watches his wedding ring roll, as if possessed, right under the legs of one of the middle-aged workers.) Forman recognizes that this scene is primarily humorous, a joke where everyone comes away slightly offended but, depending on their dignity, not much the worse for wear. That the joke comes primarily at the expense of the froggy one, abandoned dramatically by the spectacled soldier who chased his wedding ring around creation, makes it that much more palatable. It’s the kind of story that one tells about nightmare dates, recognizably packaged as background for sitcoms. Yet it bears a tremendous subtlety; it is the markers of Communist authority, the foreman and the war machine, which have created this embarrassing tension. They’ve made everything a little worse.
In its best scenes, Loves of a Blonde is dangerously funny, winding little stories of the ’60s Warsaw Pact into something Chekhovian. That’s a badly overused adjective (and seeing as I just used it to talk about Birdman, that might be something I need to work on), but in the sense that there’s much more going on in everyone’s heads than makes it out of their mouths, in the way that the small foibles of everyday life turn into comedies which can make us laugh and smile ruefully in sequence, I would argue that Forman gets himself onto that level. It’s clear at the dance that Andula’s really not looking at those reservists at all, but only has eyes for the piano player in the band. Milda (Pucholt) looks nearly as young as her, what with his short, reedy frame and his bad hair. In their first scene together, there’s an unbelievably good shot in which the two of them face each other at the bottom of some stairs. The way it’s framed, Andula looks like she’s between the flights of stairs: it’s like looking at open jaws. Clearly she is in no small danger with her piano player, and their night of passion begins badly. She is, as ever, nervous about any kind of sex. On the other hand, it couldn’t be clearer that Milda’s got a bag of tricks that he’s pulled out in every little town between Prague and Bratislava. Some of them are definitely not kosher by 2017 standards, and would probably raise some mid-60s eyebrows. It’s not all easy for him – he has more trouble with his pull-up curtain than anyone in the nude deserves to have – but he gets what he wants, and Andula decides it’s not so bad after all.
The extent of how badly she’s used (which is a fairly Sea Gull construction) becomes clear when she shows up one night at her beloved’s house. Unfortunately, it’s just her beloved’s parents, and they are as amazed as you might expect them to be: there’s a cute, but not beautiful, young woman standing at their door in the middle of the night carrying a suitcase and waiting for their son. The father, who keeps getting the door, seems good-natured enough; he understands instinctively that whatever happened is not that poor girl’s fault. The mother (Jezkova), who might be the only active volcano in Czechoslovakia, finds a way to yell at everyone. She is unsparing in her criticism of Andula, whose name she never figures out; the final shot in her house is of Andula on her knees, listening through a door and crying. Of course, it’s not really the girl she’s made at, since she’s not really her problem. Her problem is her son, who is forced to sleep in his parents’ bed since there’s a girl in his. (Despite his solemn-turned-laughable pledge to Andula back in the village – “I do not have a girl in Prague I do not have a girl in Prague I do not have a girl in Prague,” etc. – anyone with an ounce of sense knows what he’s telling her, and our eyes confirm it in a short shot.) Everyone finds a way to yell at someone else in this scene. Milda and his father switch places at least twice while the mother ladles out some generous vitriol; Milda’s dad is more concerned about getting his fair share of the covers than anything else. At one point there is a quiet moment, and then we realize that the mother has just been taking a breather; she starts laying into her son again. We can hear the terrible lament from the father: “I was just falling asleep…” That scene is done in just a couple of long takes from the foot of the bed, and it simply keeps going. Like the dance, this one is quietly critical of just about everyone. Shouldn’t the parents be keeping out of their son’s life a little? Why on earth is he still living at home if he makes more than his dad? Why isn’t the dad stopping this? What happened to the mom to get her to this point? Meanwhile, Andula is given a harsher grace than she received when the bottle of wine went to the wrong table. Fortunately, it seems to be a longer-lasting one.