Once Milos Forman left his home country of Czechoslovakia for Hollywood, he was allowed to fully explore the anti-authoritarian context of his work without worrying about the oppressive state interfering with his art. This created some of the boldest examples of brutal and often tragicomic condemnation of abusive authority that dehumanizes its subject either in the name of unchecked power or as a form of brainwashing. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest and Hair are still some of the boldest examples of counterculture cinema of the ‘70s.
Forman wasn't so unchained during the ‘60s, when he was still directing in Czechoslovakia. The communist country's draconian rules against art that challenged the party line meant that Forman had to be saddled with non-political work that forced him to include politically satirical elements under a veneer of mainstream comedy. His slapstick masterpiece Firemen's Ball was about a group of firemen attempting to throw a party to one of their soon-to-be-retired brethren, only to have the whole thing collapse around them due to cronyism and extreme incompetence. I worked as a straight comedy, but underneath it was a glorious takedown of extremist and tribalist politics.
Similarly, his equally funny and heartbreaking romantic comedy A Blonde in Love works perfectly well on the surface as an amicable example of the Czech new wave, about an impressionable teenager named Andula (Hana Brejchova) looking for love in places where none really exists, becoming more and more forlorn about her chances of romance in the process. Brejchova's natural allure helps create an instantly likable character whose youthful fallacies are exposed on her innocent face. She thinks of the world as an extension of romance stories full of chivalrous men who will honor their love for their beloved.
In reality, within the small town where she toils day in and day out in a textile factory, men only want a good time with her by pretending to be their knight in shining armor. The comedy takes full advantage of the awkward situations men will get themselves into in order to get laid, as evidenced by the endless bickering by three factory workers who are desperate to bag Andula and her friends, and a young piano player who literally begs her to come to his room. It's with piano player that Andula falls in love with, so she unceremoniously leaves her factory and shows up at his address, where it turns out he lives with his parents. The juxtaposition of Andula's fantasy world about men and the disappointing reality creates a unique type of dramedy.
Yet under this surface, Forman creates a slight but focused criticism of his totalitarian society, where every individual is expected to fit into a certain norm and individuality is forbidden. Even attempts at romance are regulated to the point of soullessness. Andula's town has far more women then men, so the party's response is to send random, mostly older and married, men there and force coupling through a gaudy get-together. They expect each women to act a certain specific way in order to fulfill the party's vision for the country's culture, which results in the men acting like predators and the women feeling boxed into a system that doesn't understand them. Even as Andula escapes her confines to find love, the parents of the piano player treat her as a commodity to be taken advantage of. Yet even with such societal oppression, there's still hope and idealism in Andula, qualities that still make her one of the enduring characters of Czech cinema.
Forman's use of the black and white photography and the 1:33:1 academy ratio not only gives his film a stark neorealistic look, but also aesthetically boxes in his protagonist, visually expressing what society expects from her. The 1080p transfer is clean and crisp, but with some healthy grain to retain the film's look.
The lossless 2.0 track carries the film's mono soundtrack in a clear way with a lot of depth. I'd prefer a 1.0 track, which could have solved the slight issue of music mixed louder than dialogue, causing me to play with the volume here and there. Otherwise, it's a solid track.
Life As It Is, Part 2: This in-depth 30-minute featurette has Forman talking about his experiences directing films in his home country, the technical and especially the ideological challenges. A great extra for those who want to know more about Forman's Czech years, since it also goes over The Fireman's Ball.
The Projection Booth: The members of the popular film podcast talk about the many sub textual qualities of every scene in this lively commentary.
We also get a Trailer and spiffy Booklet with an essay about the film.
Short, light, but packing quite a punch in both straight narrative and sociopolitical terms, A Blonde in Love is essential for Forman completionists and fans of the Czech new wave.