A Blonde in Love (Lásky jedné plavovlásky, Czechoslovakia, 1966)

More than just a blond

More than just a blonde

This fascinating youth pic, from the Czech New Wave, both ‘universalises’ the teenage (or early-20s) experience and sets in squarely in its time. The time was just before the ‘Prague Spring’, but clearly government influence was already loosening, particularly with the relatively graphic nudity and the scene where the youth union meeting is satirised. Being a teenager yearning for a (sexual) relationship is the predominant narrative of youth pics and Czechoslovakia in the ’60s was no different. In fact, it was accentuated by the 16:1 ratio of women to men in the blonde’s (Andula) town, Zruc. To counteract the problem the local factory’s ‘social director’ persuades the army to move a garrison of men to the vicinity. However, they turn out to be middle aged reservists of little interest to Andula and her friends.

The troops’ arrival is one of many comic set pieces in the film. The girls, and the town, are full of hope until the balding men arrive who promptly march to their barracks singing a ridiculous song of blood and glory. Similarly in a dance hall three men bicker amongst themselves on how try of pick up the girls. They send a waiter with a bottle but it’s delivered to the wrong table. Writer-director Milos Forman’s observes all this affectionately, he is not mocking the small town travails of his characters.

As was much European cinema in the ’60s, the Czech New Wave was a ripple of the French nouvelle vague and the long conversations between characters reminded me of early Godard and there is a wonderful moment of Czech surrealism where a necktie is found around a tree when Andula walks through the wood for an assignation that never happens. The dancehall scene reminded me of the one in Billy Liar, shot three years earlier, emphasising how, in the sixties, youth culture was becoming internationalised.

Forman cast locals, mostly non actors, giving the film a realist edge that adds to the charm; it’s not surprising that Ken Loach often cites it as a favourite film. Its political edge is seen when the youth union meeting, of women, is asked to vote to be chaste. Only Andula, hiding at the back, doesn’t put up her hand in favour emphasising the conformism expected by the Establishment at the time. However, while she is something of a rebel, Andula is also a victim; she is betrayed by the smooth talking pianist. Their ‘love’ scene, with the recalcitrant blind, is funny. Overall the film is suffused with a melancholy tone; it entertains but doesn’t forget the pathos of young lust.

Cléo de 5 à 7 (France, 1962)

Zeitgeist of its time

It’s a sign of age, and too much time watching movies maybe, that I’m running out of ‘classic’ films to see. Cléo de 5 à 7 has recently come available and, having studied and taught  the French new wave (nouvelle  vague), it was great to catch this oft-mentioned film. That said, I was a tad disappointed. Maybe my middle age ennui is getting the better of me…

On the plus side, there are great shots of Parisian streets and some stunning compositions, particularly using mirrors. In an early scene in a cafe, the frame is cut by a post making it seem as if it’s actually split in two. Cleo is listening to others about her going about their lives as she waits for 7 ‘o clock when she’ll receive the results of tests for cancer. The soundtrack also privileges her perception as she hears people’s conversations as she passes them by.

It’s a sort of two-hour (90 mins running time) road/walk movie as Cleo approaches the dreaded hour of her diagnosis. All good stuff; including a silent movie pastiche starring Jean-Luc Godard and Anna Karina. However…

Cleo is a pop star and so is, unsurprisingly, represented as rather vapid. The idea is that she gains character as the hour approaches however I found the film’s final scenes, where she meets a soldier about to return to Algiers, entirely unconvincing. I found Antoine Bourseiller’s soldier creepy rather than inspirational. However, the moment of the diagnosis is handled well.

For me there are bits of brilliance, and it must have seemed amazing in the early ’60s, so I shall say it’s very much a film that is the zeitgeist of its time.