August 15, 2020  (Web Review)

Forman vs. Forman

Negativ Film, 78 min., In English and Czech w/ English subtitles. VOD: Oct. 19, 2019.

Reviewer rating: 3.5/4

Directed by Jakub Hejna and Helena Trestikova, Forman vs. Forman is a biographical film of acclaimed director Milos Forman (1932-2018).  Best known for directing One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and Amadeus, Forman was interested in telling stories about real people.  When he was six years old, he watched a silent movie of a popular Czech opera; after the audience began to sing the words, he decided he wanted to make movies. Together with film clips and archival footage, Forman narrates much of his own story and explains what ideas caught his attention for film making.

Born in Czechoslovakia, Forman was left alone at an early age. His parents were arrested and died in German concentration camps; growing up, Forman spent time with different families—leaving him feeling like an outsider. Later, he attended a boarding school for post war orphans.  Learning first-hand what it was like to live in an occupied country, where communist ideology was harshly imposed, Forman formed very personal views on oppression and freedom. Forman attended a film school in Prague, and he and other filmmakers known as the “Czech New Wave” began making progressive films. Forman liked seeing ordinary people on screen and used this concept in Audition in 1963. Since communists used informers to spy on people, Forman patterned the idea of a snitch for the leading role in his film Black Peter. Loves of a Blonde was inspired by a story of a young woman who left her female-heavy factory town to meet a man in the city only to find a bogus address. Forman’s specialty became not moralizing or presenting a solution. 

About to present The Fireman’s Ball in 1967 at the Cannes Film Festival in Paris, he learns the Russians are invading Prague with tanks. Fearing for his own safety, Forman remains in Paris and later emigrates to America to make a film about hippies and their parents called Taking Off. Gaining citizenship in 1975, Forman turns to new subject matters and directs One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest in 1975, Hair in 1979, and Ragtime in 1981.  When Forman decides to direct Amadeus in 1984, he gains permission to return to Prague and films the movie there, despite being under constant surveillance. Forman directs The People vs. Larry Flynt in 1996 and acknowledges how the Supreme Court heroically advocated for the film’s right to freedom of expression. 

Throughout the film, Forman is philosophical about life, freedom, his achievements, and letdowns.  His story ends in 2018. Forman’s compassion for people, his extraordinary talent as a director, and his insight into what it means to be free, makes this documentary well worth watching. Highly recommended.  Aud: H, C, P. (T. Root)