Milos Forman's Nostalgic Return to the Czech Republic

in 44th Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by Barbara Hollender

An important event of the Karlovy Vary festival was the world premiere of “A Walk Worthwhile” by Milos Forman. This is the first film made by the famous director in his home country for over 40 years since “Firemen’s Ball”. When presenting his film, Forman said: “Once again, I felt young”.

The world premiere of “Jazz Opera” by Jiri Suchy and Jiri Slitr took place in a Prague theatre called Semafor in 1965. At the same time, Miloš Forman and Jan Rohac prepared its screen adaptation. Forty Three years later, Forman, radiant with his American success, author of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, “Amadeus”, “Hair”, “Valmont” and “The People vs. Larry Flynt”, returned to Prague to stage this old opera at the National Theatre and then filmed it once again. This time, he worked with his sons, director Peter and set designer Matej. In the 1960’s, Suchy’s opera brought a breath of novelty to the Czechs. Today, “A Walk Worthwhile” is projected like a film from a different era. It recounts a story about a couple whose divorce is interrupted by a telegram from a rich aunt in Liverpool, endowing a million dollars to their child. The problem is that Uli and Vanilka are childless. Is one million enough to forget about the failure of their love? Subsequently, everything revolves around the fortune, which several people are trying to intercept, ready to propose to Vanilka and have a child with her in order to get the money.

The entire story irritates with clichés. Forman did not have an idea how to modernize the 1960’s play. He focused on recreating Czech reality from the middle of the 20th century at the stage of the National Theatre: hairstyles, clothes, behavior and possibly even thinking from the time when he was directing “Black Peter”, “Loves of a Blonde” and “Firemen’s Ball”. Looking at actresses with back-combed hair, clothed in gray skirt-suits or pop-art dresses, one can wonder at the fact how much canons of female beauty have changed. Yet first of all, we are amazed at how the Eastern-European world has changed after the fall of the Berlin wall. “Suchy’s and Slitr’s opera is a universal story about the power of money, equally valid then and now,” says Forman. It seems that he is mistaken. Today, rich “aunts from the West” are only scaring us in television commercials and the road to financial success lies somewhere else. Therefore, “A Walk Worthwhile” resembles a colorful pendant from the 1960’s. It is not an important film; it is more a record of a memory. Yet memories have their charm.

Edited by Steven Yates