Freedom, one of the themes of this year's Transatlantyk Festival, was an extremely important motif in the films of the Czech director, Miloš Forman, deceased in April this year.
When he was once told that as an immigrant he could not make a film based on a famous book about a psychiatric hospital, he replied: "For me it's not literature, but the reality of the times when I lived in Czechoslovakia. The communist party was like Nurse Ratched for me; I was told what to do and what not to do; what I was allowed to say and what I wasn’t."
Apparently, his argument worked, and his pursuit was successful. The Forman’s film in question, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, received five Oscars in the most important categories and was listed as one of the most important films of all times, on many occasions. Before it happened, Miloš Forman's life clearly resembled a madman’s dream for a long time. He was born in 1932. He was only six when Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia under the Munich Agreement. His parents, suspected of an anti-fascist activity, were killed in concentration camps. Later, young Miloš was brought up by his relatives. He attended high school together with Vaclav Havel and Jerzy Skolimowski.
His education in filmmaking started from screenwriting. He quickly became known as the most talented student of the Film Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) and the leader of the emerging Czechoslovak New Wave. His first films, Black Peter and Loves of a Blonde, despite their cheerful tone, were marked by panful personal experiences of the director, who was seeking the truth and a way to rebound after the absurdities of communist reality. Today, we watch them as exemplary comedies.
Still, at that time Forman had little to laugh about. When his tragicomedy about a rustic party The Firemen’s Ball, banned form cinemas by censorship, he used an invitation he had and went to New York. His first film Taking Off made in the United States went unnoticed. He quickly understood that in Hollywood he would have to review his method of work, but he kept to realism, whenever possible. In his memoirs, he wrote that had been asked to direct of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, because an immigrant from the Eastern Bloc could be paid less.
Later when he receivedone of the five Oscars, he joked that the Academy could have been so generous because he had "spent more time in a psychiatric hospital than other nominees". It was actually the case because the film was mostly shot in a real psychiatric hospital. There were among non-professional actors, the authentic director of the facility and the ill. Nurse Ratched was played by the 41-year-old debutant Louise Fletcher. Every directorial decision of Forman confirmed tendency to take risks, which gave him a better chance of capture the reality on the spot.
The great success of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest developed his confidence. The similar spirit of contestation inspired the production of the musical Hair, which is a good reflection of the energy of one of the most creative American counterculture chapters in the 1960s and 1970s. Amadeus resonated even better with audience and critics. In this Oscar-winning drama, the director successfully combined facts with myths. The Mozart character as well as Salieri, insanely jealous of his talent, are very articulate, but the film does not lack subtle comedic accents.
The great strength of Amadeus, anyway, is the fact that it can be interpreted on so many levels. Director deconstructs the Salieri’s myth as fierce rivalry with Mozart but reinvents it as a story about conflict of personalities, destructive power of ressentiment and power of art. The art that forced Forman himself to leave its own country. The artist returned to his homeland only to direct Amadeus on his own terms.
In another famous film, The People vs Larry Flynt, Miloš Forman once again proved that classic biography structures do not mean much to him. In the story of the titular publisher of “Hustler” and the big fish of the American porn industry, the director faces the question about the foundations of democracy and freedom. The history of his court battles "for the right to spread pornography and bad taste" against the bigots, who wanted to send him to prison, ended up in Supreme Court.
A libertine to become the symbol of the fight for civil and democratic freedom? Why not! As his attorney explained: "You do not have to like what Larry Flynt does to appreciate that you in live a country where you have the liberty to do it". The fight for freedom is, in any case, a recurring theme in the works of Forman, who was well aware of how precious and fragile this value it is. All the protagonist in his films shown at the Transatlantyk Festival are rebels.
The artist, deceased last year, spent his whole life working in the totalitarian system. He liked to repeat that in communism, man was kept in a cage and in the free world he was released into a jungle. Naturally, he himself chose the second option.