Forman Vs. Forman
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…a thoughtful tribute to a singular director.
An intimate portrait of the Oscar-winning Czech director Miloš Forman, the documentary Forman vs. Forman plays out like an extended home movie. Co-directors Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna have sourced existing footage of professional interviews conducted with the filmmaker (in English, French and Czech) and combined it with footage discovered in the collections of friends and colleagues. We also see behind-the-scenes footage from all stages of Milos Forman’s life, including him calling the shots on movie sets.
Throughout the 77-minute documentary, Forman’s life and career is charted chronologically. A card at the end notes that Forman died in April of 2018, shortly before the doc was screened at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival as well as at Cannes.
Miloš Forman was a film director, screenwriter, actor and professor who achieved fame in his native Czechoslovakia before emigrating to the United States in 1968. In the director’s narration, we discover that he was “Afraid of too much introspection… What did I learn about myself, is that I love telling stories.”
Paired with some lovely sepia-hued old family photos and footage, Forman recalls how the Gestapo took his parents to Concentration camps when he was a little boy. He talks of being shuttled from one family member to another, leaving him with a permanent sense of being an outsider, a fringe dweller. As he visits his old boarding school, he reminiscences about his school friends, including Vaclav Havel – the seditious playwright and political prisoner who later became their country’s President.
After the war, he fell in love with the cinema, remarking on the freedom he felt when he acquired his first camera, a silent 16mm one. Beautiful images from his early films show an eye for composition. Inspired by the freshness of Italian neo-realism, and railing at the painfully cringey Russian propaganda films, Forman gained early attention with his low-budget, satirical comedy The Firemen’s Ball, the last film that Miloš Forman made in his native country and language. It’s a lively comedy that demonstrates the director’s knack for extracting natural performances out of an entirely non-professional cast largely made up of actual firemen.
It was nominated for an Oscar, but the Czech Communist authorities were so convinced that it was a satirical allegory about official incompetence that the film was officially “banned forever,” or until the 1989 Velvet Revolution.
A 1967 Czechoslovak–Italian co-production, this was Forman’s first colour film and remains one of the best–known movies of the Czechoslovak New Wave.
Notably, The Firemen’s Ball was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 41st Academy Awards. It was also listed to compete at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, but the festival was cancelled due to the workers’ strikes in May 1968 in France.
“The world saw our films as a revelation,” Forman muses. Following a period of depression, ensconced at the Chelsea Hotel, the filmmaker went on to carve a stellar career in Hollywood after the offer to direct One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest fell into his lap and brought him out of his lengthy seclusion.
He goes on to conquer Hollywood and win Best Director for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) as well as for Amadeus (1984) and talks about the prestige and power the Oscar wins afforded him in negotiations with the studio suits.
While the latter two decades of his life are somewhat glossed over, Forman vs. Forman remains a thoughtful tribute to a singular director.