Thursday 25 August 2011


(Milos Forman, 1965)

Forman's second feature film - and the work that made his reputation internationally - is a fluid mix of warm comedy, emotional drama and light socio-political commentary. Structured around a few incidents in the life of a girl working in a factory town which has been stripped of its male population by National Service, it is a fine showcase of the directors qualities.
He makes his points - chiefly about the difficulty of being a "normal" teenager under a Totalitarian political system that makes every decision for its people - but never at the expense of his warm, always humanist and sympathetic characterisation, or his supple storytelling.
And it is supple. The story is simple and told in only a handful of long scenes, each with an entirely different mood and dynamic. The most celebrated focuses upon two lovers and their pre and (naked) post-coital conversation, and it is beautifully observed - as is the whole film - and nicely shot and acted. It is sandwiched between a bitterly funny argument between three soldiers who have struck out with girls at a party and a raging row between the heroine and her ex over their split. There is also a brilliant, excruciatingly extended comic set piece at that party, another when a son has to share a bed with his angry parents and the three bicker at cross-currents while trying to get to sleep, some gentle interludes when we watch the life of the factory floor, and a couple of telling examples of state interference in the personal lives of it's citizens, represented by meetings where policy is decided and/or communicated.
Forman frequently follows characters away from his central plot strand, giving each of them equal weight and sympathy for a long scene, from the horny middle-aged reservists to the worried parents and the fatherly factory boss. The script and performances - many by non-actors - are realistic and funny, the photography inventive and exciting, and the whole thing has aged incredibly well. Indeed, it feels startlingly modern, with its all-encompassing gaze, its loose camerawork, its sympathy for its romantic teenaged protagonists and its stylistic eclecticism.

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