144-145 Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball

Discuss DVDs and Blu-rays released by Criterion and the films on them. If it's got a spine number, it's in here. Threads may contain spoilers.
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Your Future our Drucker
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Re: Loves of a Blonde (Miloš Forman, 1965)

#26 Post by Drucker » Thu Apr 17, 2014 2:49 pm

Great posts Sloper and Warren. I'm busy and want to reply, so sorry for not quoting you directly.

I feel like my overall interpretation of the film is certainly more optimistic than you've spelled out Sloper. And that's not to downplay the heartache and despair that Milda certainly feels. Every boy in this film wants her for sex. The wine boys fail. One apparently used a ring, and maybe he really did care for her, but that ends poorly. Clearly the boy whose apartment she visits isn't being fully honest with her. She wants to be loved. Warren's right about the atmosphere of the factory the women work in. (Though I didn't take their chastity vote very seriously. I viewed it as one prude person feeling a certain way, but the young girls seemed to be snickering at the thoughts of taking such a pledge seriously.) And this is all an environment she wants to escape. So she's looking for men to free her and make her feel good.

The ultimate irony of this, though, is look at the long game: what does having a boy take care of you and marriage really look like? Well, we get to see two older parents of the new boy she loves. Is that the kind of romance she hopes to be whisked away towards? I don't believe we see any real "idealized" relationship in the movie she can aspire to.

And this goes back to my point about feeling that this film is a great snapshot of youth. The incident with the ring boy, the wine bottle, the new boy...these all feel like really big deals as they happen but they go away. And you move on. These incidents are a dime a dozen at her age. I understand the girls are over 18, and not, say 15, but the young people in the film definitely seem closer to youth than adulthood. Or maybe just in the middle.

I understand that her efforts to escape her current lot in life and the suffocating nature of the community are worth taking seriously. But I can't help but feel the movie is more about young escapades, of someone who is concurrently going through different stages of relationship cycles with different people, not realizing that in 3 months, all of those folks will be in the next stage of said cycle.

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Re: Loves of a Blonde (Miloš Forman, 1965)

#27 Post by Sloper » Sun Apr 20, 2014 1:21 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:Sounds sort of like Noriko's boss in Early Summer?
I wouldn't say so actually - he never came across as particularly creepy to me, just a little obnoxious. Yes, he's a bit over-solicitous when it comes to getting Noriko married off, but so is everyone else in that film. However, you prompted me to re-watch that film (always nice to have an excuse) partly because there are some interesting parallels with Loves of a Blonde - both films are, on some level, about fantasies giving way to humdrum reality, and Andula's fit of tears at the end finds an interesting echo in the ending of Early Summer - but mainly because the discussion we've been having in this thread has a lot in common with earlier discussions about the tone of Ozu's films. For me, it's the sadness and pessimism that comes to the fore in Ozu, whereas I think for many people (including you, MK?) the scales tip slightly more on the side of humour and optimism. I do tend to be a bit of a miserable git about these things, so personal temperament certainly plays a part.

And Drucker, I think the film absolutely does work on the level you describe, as a wry but gentle portrayal of young love, and when it is caustic it uses a very light touch. But I have to say that your reading of the film does not sound like a very optimistic one: you seem to be suggesting that it's a snapshot of a moment in Andula's youth when she embarks on the gradual, painful journey of disillusionment, and it begins to dawn on her that these relationships in which she invests so much are transient, ephemeral things, and that (as you say) she is likely to end up in a marriage that is no less humdrum and de-humanising than her work at the factory. Perhaps I've mis-represented your argument in some way, but this all seems terribly sad.

I think what's amazing about this film is that it maintains that light touch all the way through, and yet when you spell out what actually happens, and think through its implications, it's really quite a bleak tale. I've enjoyed watching (and re-watching) two of Forman's other Czech films, Konkurs and The Fireman's Ball, for this project, and they share this same quality of telling a story that is fundamentally rather sad, but in a light-hearted tone, and with every appearance of documentary realism; it's a remarkable balancing act.

Loves of a Blonde has quite a lot in common, thematically, with Konkurs, which is also about people trying to find outlets for their creativity or individualism but being thwarted (by various forces) and eventually re-absorbed into some form of collective activity. From Andula's point of view, she is in love, or seeking love, trying to connect with another individual in a meaningful and lasting way. From our privileged perspective, we can see what she perhaps senses when she casts those furtive glances at the factory director: that her individual quest for love operates within the confines and according to the rules laid down by a higher authority, and not a very competent one at that. The portrayal of the inept firemen in the later film, pettily micro-managing every detail of the ball and buggering it up at every turn, is both extremely funny and a caustic expansion of the point being made in Loves of a Blonde, where the social director's plot to imbue his employees' lives with meaning and happiness results in a hilariously dispiriting dance and, for Andula, a disillusioning two-night-stand. Arguably, the initial problem (of the workers' joyless lives) is exacerbated by this elaborate but misguided attempt to help them.

A couple of questions I still have about some details in the film:

What is the significance of the necktie? Initially, it's a symbolic token in Andula's relationship with Tonda, but he fails to return and retrieve it, which apparently is why she gives up on him; then, it brings her together with the married soldier who rebukes her for hanging it on the tree. Later, Milda's mother discovers the tie in Andula's suitcase (stirring music plays on the soundtrack at this moment - why? and what do you make of the mother's expression as she looks at the tie? does she soften towards Andula at this moment?), suggesting that she intends to give it to her new boyfriend. So it seems to be a kind of baton passed from one lover to the next. Maybe a symbol of Andula's wish to form a bond (a tie that binds... sorry...), a clumsy gift to cement the attachment? At the start of the film she was embarrassed at her failure to get Tonda a gift to correspond with the ring he gave her.

What do you make of Milda calling Andula 'angular', and comparing her to a Picasso? There's something very touching and sweet about this part of their dialogue, but it's certainly not the kind of thing a smooth-talking lothario would say. I guess it suggests that Andula is (like the two singers in the second part of Konkurs) somehow unusual and idiosyncratic, in a good way. What does the comment suggest about Milda?

I love the music in this film, especially the melancholy piano theme that plays during the love scene between Andula and Milda. The theme later recurs in a livelier, glossier, jazz-band version to accompany the film on the TV in Milda's flat. In the film, we see female shop window dummies coming to life, apparently under the influence of a clown. I don't know what to make of this, but it seems like an interesting detail, especially since the music here is associated with Milda.

But as I said before, perhaps it's a good thing that this film resists interpretation now and then.

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Re: Loves of a Blonde (Miloš Forman, 1965)

#28 Post by Michael Kerpan » Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:00 pm

I would say that it is not a matter of "humor and optimism" -- but humor and acceptance of the whole messy mix of happiness and unhappiness (etc.).

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Re: Loves of a Blonde (Miloš Forman, 1965)

#29 Post by Drucker » Mon Apr 21, 2014 12:21 pm

I was going to tie in my next post to my love of that Ozu film but it got too long-winded off topic. In the meantime, yes, optimism may not be the word I meant to use. But the idea that "oh the folly of youth" may be more how I'm reading this film more than anything else.

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Re: 144-145 Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen's Ball

#30 Post by movielocke » Fri Jul 18, 2014 4:21 pm

I found Firemen's Ball riveting and charming. The nonstop bickering and squabbling over the petty details of the gala were wryly observed and I found them tremendously funny. It reminded me of innumerable experiences growing up in small town communities and churches. People certainly have not changed one whit, the same issues crop up here or in Czechloslovakia. I especially found the beauty pageant auction pathetic, offensive, and humorous (for being all-too-true). My grandma often complained that the schools couldn't do "slave auctions" anymore because of political correctness, and that was a shame because they were such good fundraisers--slave auctions being where all the white boys in the school, (the school was segregated of course) were put up for bid to all the white girls in the school who wanted a date, it was in a raucous auction atmosphere. Back to the film, the inherent sexism of the system, the girls resistence to it parallel nicely to the inherent injustices of communism and the people's resistence to it. Personally I found the ending with people requesting the thieves return the stolen items to be hysterically funny and all too true, only to be beautifully counterpointed by the orwellian, sinister comment that everyone who didn't steal something is just as guilty as someone who did steal something because the non-thieves had the same opportunity to steal as the thieves, ergo they share equally in the guilt for the theft.

Loves of a Blonde fell a little flatter for me. The humor wasn't quite as sharp, but the lives were wittily and well observed but it often felt a pace too slow or a step too long in each segment. It feels like a feminist film, a sort of scathing indictment of the ways women are always in a series of no-win situations in this film, but I'm not sure if that is something deliberately meant, or that's just an interpretation I made based on my own distaste for the grossly skewed society presented. The inherent tragic melancholy of the girl listening to the argument at the keyhole at the end of the film is a striking visual, and I feel like will be the thing I remember most about the film.

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