Milos Forman’s Loves of a Blonde (Lasky Jedne Plavovlasky) takes place out in the sticks in 1960s Czechoslovakia. It appears to be a “company town” type place, a settlement where most or all of the residents are female and work in a shoe factory and live in dormitories. The official who runs the factory prevails upon the government to send soldiers to the area–whether to establish a military base there or hold maneuvers there or what, I’m not sure–so that there will be some eligible males around to balance out all the females in the factory.
Soon the soldiers arrive, but instead of being the intended young eligible bachelors, they are reservists, mostly middle-aged and married. The factory owner decides to make do with what he’s got, and organizes a ball.
So much like in Forman’s The Firemen’s Ball, a ball in a small town is central to the movie. Though in The Firemen’s Ball it is basically the entire movie, and here it’s closer to half.
The protagonist of the film Andula (Hana Brejchov¡) is a girl from the town, I’m guessing maybe 19, who works in the factory and lives in a dormitory like the rest. She gossips to the other girls about the suitors she’s had, the prospects of each, etc. They are engrossed in her stories, which are likely a combination of truth and the romantic longings of a young girl hoping for a Prince Charming to save her from her life of drudgery.
She attends the ball with two of her girlfriends. The bulk of this portion of the movie concerns three soldiers trying to hook up with this table of three girls. Actually there’s considerably more with the three soldiers–trying to work up the nerve to approach the girls, bickering and bantering amongst themselves about tactics, etc.–than with the girls.
The girls are none too impressed, but they aren’t so repulsed as to reject the guys outright. They accept a bottle of wine from them, agree to sit with them, but for the most part are indifferent to them.
It’s kind of like it’s closing time at the bar, you were really open to hooking up with someone tonight, but there are only slim pickings left. A guy approaches you who would normally be “no way in hell,” but under the circumstances he’s “probably not, but maybe.”
The tone is somewhat serious, somewhat farcical, maybe a little more the latter. The humor’s decent, like when the bottle of wine is initially sent to the wrong table, and the surprised but very happy middle-aged women accept it and start making eyes at their imagined suitors, who are predictably aghast at this turn of events.
Andula’s attention is soon diverted to the young piano player, part of a band that has come from Prague. He talks her into accompanying him to a room upstairs at this hotel or wherever the ball is taking place.
The seduction scene there is quite well done. Remembering my own youth, I felt a jolt of recognition–sort of a nostalgia for what was appealing about the thrill of the hunt, but at least as much a wincing–that I normally don’t feel in similar scenes in more conventional Hollywood movies. This somehow seemed to nail that intriguing uncertainty where the guy is really trying his best but can’t know until it happens just how far he’s going to get, and the girl, though nominally in control of how far things will go, is similarly uncertain of what will happen until a moment before she calls a halt, or doesn’t.
After a great deal of give and take, and back and forth, he eventually convinces her, or she convinces herself, that they’re falling for each other and that this is something other than a one night stand.
A week later, evidently deciding that a bold move to change her life is in order, she shows up, suitcase in hand, at his residence in Prague, which turns out to be a small flat he shares with his parents. He’s out for the evening, they know not where, so the three of them awkwardly sit around the kitchen table.
The mother announces repeatedly that she’s not happy about this situation one little bit; the father grumbles about his wife and his son, shows a little sympathy for Andula’s plight, and mostly just wants to dismiss the whole matter and be left in peace to watch TV. Andula meekly sits there with fading hope that this bold move is going to work out, and gradually falls asleep at the table as the mother whines and nags on.
The situation becomes no less awkward when the son returns home late at night. The three of them proceed to bicker back and forth about the girl like she’s not there. The son insists he didn’t invite her, and no one’s quite sure how to answer the “Well, what are we supposed to do with her now?” question. Ultimately, she ends up on the couch, and the parents and the boy end up all in the same bed, continuing their bickering.
The three reservists at the ball are moderately funny in the way they carry on with each other, but this family in Prague is even funnier. The parents are like watching a sitcom couple, like Raymond’s parents on Everybody Loves Raymond, or George’s parents on Seinfeld. I don’t mean they have similar personality types or verbal styles as either of those couples specifically, just that everything involving them is similarly farcical. I especially like the world weary father who acts like he’s long since given up trying to understand or control events in his household.
Andula, who has barely said a word since her arrival, is ultimately reduced to tears listening to their continued arguing over her, and realizing that this particular romantic dream is pretty much over.
And I did feel something for her at that point. She’s a nice enough person–pretty in her kind of simple way, too–a romantic at heart, who took a shot. Not meaning to hurt anybody or do anything beyond give love and receive love.
It’s a reminder that for all the humor in the sitcom style bickering of this family, there’s a real person being hurt by all this.
So then I have to wonder how this movie might have come across if Forman hadn’t played it primarily for laughs. The characters really aren’t developed significantly, including the protagonist, and you have to fill in some of the more serious emotional issues for yourself. So it reached me emotionally to a limited extent, but I wonder if it could have had a bigger impact on me if the filmmaker had sacrificed 50% of the humor in order to try for something deeper.
Still, as it is I enjoyed the humor and I felt enough for the protagonist to give the film an overall favorable verdict.