Milos Forman Beyond the ‘Cuckoo’s Nest’: His Early Czechoslovak Films Reveal a Master of Black Comedy

No appreciation of Forman’s talent is complete without an acknowledgement of the masterful black comedies he made during the first stage of his career.

loves of a blonde
“Loves of a Blonde”

Milos Forman only made eight English-language features in five decades, but many of his contributions became synonymous with the legacy of American movies. “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus” have a powerful resonance in popular culture, while later efforts “The People vs. Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon” showed a resilient filmmaker keen on exploring iconoclastic figures by pushing the boundaries of commercial cinema. However, in the wake of his death, no appreciation of Forman’s talent is complete without an acknowledgement of the masterful black comedies he made in the first stage of his career.

Less prophet of doom than a chronicler of contemporary despair, Forman meshed satire with realism and wielded irony as a cultural weapon. In the early ‘60s, Forman was a leading figure of the Czechoslovak New Wave by transforming the pratfalls of disaffected youth into punchlines. The humor emerged as a natural reflex — nervous laughter over the uncertainties of strange times.

Forman’s first feature, “Black Peter” (1964), meshes offbeat situational humor with a conventional coming-of-age story. Soft-spoken teen Peter (Ladislav Jakim) lands a thankless job at the local grocery store, where he’s asked to apprehend thieving shoppers. Hardly the aggressive type, he prefers to wander the hills with newfound friends. The ongoing joke of his dead-end job clashes hard with the demands of nascent responsibilities. Forman’s use of non-professional actors and real settings give the movie a documentary-like resonance. With Peter, Forman explores the early stirrings of rebellious instincts among a new generation on the brink of the enlightenment known as the Prague Spring.

In “Loves of a Blonde” (1965), meek…

Sasha Harriet

Sasha Harriet

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Sasha Harriet

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