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Director Pen Portraits: Milos Forman

Milos Forman (b. 1932) was one of the major figures in the Czech/Slovak ‘New Wave’ of the mid 1960s. He became known for a series of observational social comedies that also satirised the communist state. The four films from this period are:

Konkurs (Talent Competition) (1963)
Peter and Pavla (1964)
Blonde in Love (1965)
The Fireman’s Ball (1967)

Forman and his collaborators (including writer/director Ivan Passer and cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek) found non-professional actors and filmed them in a documentary style. Many of the films included music performances and several of these can be seen on YouTube (search under “Milos Forman”). In 1968 after many years when Czech films were ignored, three were chosen for screening at the Cannes Film Festival in 1968, including The Fireman’s Ball. However, the events of Paris, May 1968, had made an impact on French directors such as Francois Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard and to Forman’s dismay, they and other French directors picketed the festival and caused it to close. Returning briefly to Prague, Forman saw the Russian tanks coming and decided to get out to America while he still could.

In Hollywood, Forman and Ondricek made Taking Off (1971), a wonderful film that continued the Czech sequence of comedies, this time dealing with middle-class American families whose teenage daughters had run away from home. Several of the techniques adopted for Konkurs are repeated here. The film flopped (it got a wide circuit release in the UK) primarily, Forman argues, because it was a European film without a ‘proper’ ending. Forman went on to have many big hits including One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984). His latest film is Goya’s Ghosts (2006), made in Spain with Javier Bardem and Natalie Portman in the lead roles, which reunited Forman with scriptwriter Jean-Claude Carrière who worked on Taking Off.

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