FORMAN VS. FORMAN

★★★★

THE LIFE OF A CREATIVE REBEL

MELBOURNE DOCUMENTARY FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW
By Jake Watt
28th June 2020

"He was always gentle and always brought out my best," wildcard Courtney Love wrote of filmmaker Miloš Forman after his death in 2018. "I was surrounded by love on both of my films with him, and other than Kurt and Frances, they remain the highest points in my life."

Jakub Hejna and Helena Třeštíková's comprehensive documentary 'Forman vs. Forman' uses archive interviews, scenes from his classic films, visits to Forman's film sets, and home videos shot by the filmmaker himself to trace the life of a man who made many films about human beings refusing to be confined by societal norms. It eschews any modern interviews, although Petr Forman, Miloš' son, narrates sections of the film.

Born in what's now the Czech Republic, Forman's early life was dominated by the influence of totalitarian regimes; his parents were both killed in the Nazi concentration camps during World War II, and he eventually left then-Czechoslovakia, and the Czech New Wave movement of which he was a guiding light ("we would rail at the Czech films being produced - they were dripping in idiocy"), after facing government suppression of his celebrated satirical film 'The Fireman's Ball'. Centred on a crew of bumbling, incompetent firefighters, the film was widely seen as a critique of the country's government, which ultimately banned it from ever being shown within its borders. It was a victim of "a country of made-up, forged bullshit films".

'FORMAN VS. FORMAN' TRAILER

Shortly thereafter, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia prompted Forman to emigrate to the United States. His first American-made film, 'Taking Off' (1971), was a commercial failure, but he found mainstream success four years later with his incisive adaptation of Ken Kesey's 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', which won five Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director. Forman's subsequent filmography is full of rich fictionalised portraits, both of eras ('Hair', 'Ragtime', 'Valmont') and of real individuals ('The People vs. Larry Flynt', 'Man On The Moon'). To date, his masterwork remains the brilliant 'Amadeus', a vividly textured, gorgeously realised reinterpretation of the life of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart that swept the Oscars in 1984.

Miloš Forman experienced life-changing events and was able to take advantage of them and turn them into a narrative of an individual‛s never-ending fight for freedom against institutions.

'Forman vs. Forman' sees the director muse on working within the Hollywood system and his humble yet complex childhood - in recordings from the early 1980s with Věra Chytilová and Jaromil Jireš he discusses freedom, creative work and the restrictions on both. The film also captures him in remarkably relaxed moments, like when one of his infant sons picks a DVD for them to watch together. Unfortunately, it's the Tom Cruise-starring 'The Last Samurai'. "It's about this guy who wants to become a samurai, so... he's trying to become a samurai," Forman explains, with supreme disinterest, to the boy.

Miloš Forman experienced life-changing events and was able to take advantage of them and turn them into a narrative of an individual‛s never-ending fight for freedom against institutions. Jakub Hejna and Helena Třeštíková's film does a remarkable job of connecting the archives and Forman's words and this clear account of the life of one of the world's greatest filmmakers should be embraced by anyone who has any interest in the complex relationship between fortune, misfortune, politics and the creative arts.

Looking for more Melbourne Documentary Film Festival reviews? Click here to check out our collection of this year's highlights.
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