B&W, 1965, 80 mins. 52 secs. / 85 mins.
Directed by Miloš Forman
Starring Hana Brejchová, Vladimír Pucholt, Vladimír Menšík
Second Run (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK R0 HD/PAL), Criterion (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)
Better known to American viewers as Loves of a Blonde and originally entitled Lásky jedné plavovlásky, this major crossover hit and Oscar nominee is one of the major cornerstones of the Czech New Wave. It also served as a major calling card for Miloš Forman, who became a major international figure after leaving Czechoslovakia in the wake of the suppression of The Fireman's Ball.
In a small town with a mildly disproportionate number of women to very few men, Andula (Brejchová) works at a struggling factory where, in a morale-boosting attempt, the staff is set up for a dance social with a number of military men doing maneuvers nearby. The evening turns into a string of comic mishaps and misunderstandings, but Andula manages to strike up a rapport with one of the band members, pianist Milda (Puncholt), who invites her to visit in Prague. However, when Andula decides to take up his offer, she doesn't quite get the experience she expects.
Short and compelling, A Blonde in Love is both a great character study of a young woman's quest for happiness as well as a priceless snapshot of the country's attitudes to work, the implicit oppression of human freedom, and the fragile nature of relationships at the time. The cast was largely recruited from non-actors in the area and really benefits from it here with a lived-in feeling of people who have a daily grind each day. That gambit pays off particularly well in the big dance sequence, an extended ping pong of characters and attempted hook ups with the women mostly put off by the nature of the prospects they're afforded.
After a series of miserable VHS editions of varying lengths, Criterion released Forman's film on DVD in 2002 featuring an adequate but modest transfer with a fair amount of damage and hot contrast levels. This featured an odd "in between" cut of the film, longer than Forman's original Czech cut but shorter than the longest American release, which was 88 minutes and padded with two sequences requested to bring the film up to a more commercial length. The lone missing (superfluous) bit from that cut is presented as a deleted scene (5m14s) with burned-in subs, along with a 2001 Forman interview (16m31s) conducted in New York. In 2019, Second Run gave the film its worldwide Blu-ray bow (following their more modest 2011 DVD) featuring an immaculate new restoration that premiered at Cannes, culled from a fresh 4K master. It looks simply gorgeous from start to finish and up to par with the label's previous impressive B&W releases in 1080p. It's worth noting that this is the theatrical Czech version of the film (with bare skin intact) versus the export versions, which featured varying degrees of padding to increase the running time. The Czech LPCM mono track is also in immaculate shape, with new, improved optional English subtitles. Picking up from the Forman interview including on Second Run's excellent Blu-ray of Forman's prior film, Black Peter, Robert Fischer's "Life As It Is: Part 2" (26m50s) from Fiction Factory is an in-depth chat with the director about this film and the circumstances in Czechoslovakia at the time, with considerable discussion of the amateur cast (including an extended anecdote about Pucholt's major career path switch you have to hear). The film can also be played with a new commentary from The Project Booth podcast gang with Mike White, Samm Deighan and Kevin Heffernan chatting about their first encounters with the film, their thoughts on Forman's cinema, connections to Makavejev, the "cinema of social awkwardness" tropes of Czech cinema, the depictions of female satisfaction at the time, and plenty more. Great listening. A new reissue trailer is also included, while the package itself includes an insert booklet with the original DVD liner notes about Forman and the film's significance by the always knowledgeable Michael Brooke.
Reviewed on August 26, 2019.