This month we remember the prolific Czechoslovakian film director Miloš Forman, who died at the age of 86 on April 13.
Forman is most famous for his Academy Award winning One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), starring Jack Nicholson, but his life story must not be forgotten. Forman grew up as a child in the Nazi-occupied area that would later become Czechoslovakia, then under the oppressive Communist government. While Forman’s films range from comedies to satires to dramas, it seems his commitment to a uniquely curated film aesthetic never slipped away.
Forman was born in the former Sudetenland, once peaceful and free until the Gestapo arrived. At the age of seven, Forman witnessed the first tragedy in his life as his parents were forcefully taken away and later killed at a Nazi death camp by a former employee for the family. Growing up with the relatives he had left, Forman was exposed to the colourful world of theatre.
For him, walking around backstage meant seeing flowers bloom, a circus come to life and the world open up to him. His greatest inspiration was the theatre and, despite the Party’s desperate attempts to stymie the extravagant and radical work falling out of the theatre, the arts in Czechoslovakia marched on with great triumph. Later, having been rejected from performing arts schools, he attended the second best option: film school, where he was taught by some of the most publically shunned and talented artists of his day including the prolific writer Milan Kundera.
His second film The Fireman’s Ball (1967) is still recognised as an integral work of the Czechoslovakian New Wave. His mix of social observation and high comedy, allegorical style, technical proficiency, and absurd humanism has always paved the way for bright recognition and praise.
After The Fireman’s Ball was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Picture, Forman moved to America where he began a new career of filmmaking which seems to be marked by an overwhelming sense of freedom: a rebellion against the totalitarian eggshells he had to traverse while working under the Communist regime. His American filmography list includes Cuckoo’s Nest, Hair (1979), Amadeus (1984), The People vs Larry Flint (1996) and Man on the Moon (1999).
His work, marked with a sybaritic style that seems to pay homage to his love of theatre, will always be remembered for its commitment to tendentious subject matter and eloquent blend of melodrama and mordant humor. His films sympathised with seemingly flawed characters such as pornographer Larry Flint, and played around with the complexities of human subjectivity and morality. His career, inspired by a dissident nature against the totalitarian weight he felt in Europe, will continue to enthuse filmmakers and filmgoers alike for many years to come – and, as the political climate around the world seems to be shifting, Forman’s radicalism may ultimately come in handy.
Image: Wikimedia Commons