Milos Forman’s feature film debut is less of a cruel story of youth, but more of a reality check for a generation at a loss for freedom and catharsis. In a 1960s summer, sixteen-year-old Petr starts his job as a supermarket trainee, whose duty is mainly to keep an eye on any potential theft in the shop. Meanwhile, his father lectures him daily on the importance of seizing power—the mark of a real man, he says. A young man like Petr has no chance to grow up according to his own will because power has replaced truth in a world where injustice is met with silence. The film captures Petr with handheld camerawork that features long takes following the protagonist across town—leaving room for the audience to ponder the inner life of the helpless teenager. Forman’s impressive first film is a foundational work of the Czech New Wave. Walking between the lines of documentary and fiction, it is a youthful picture that maintains a laid back rhythm. This film cements Forman’s style of using non-professional actors, improvised dialogue, and location shooting in his later films, such as Firemen’s Ball (1969). Everyday anguish and society’s travesty are vividly presented in this documentary-like fictional film.
Miloš Forman was born in 1932 in Cáslav, Czechoslovakia. He lost his parents under the Nazi occupation. In 1956, he graduated from Prague Film School (FAMU) and worked as a writer and assistant director thereafter. His first feature film, Black Peter (1963), was acknowledged as one of the pioneering works of the Czech New Wave and awarded the Golden Sail (Vela d’oro) at the Locarno International Film Festival. Subsequently, Loves of a Blonde (1965), and The Firemen's Ball (1967) continued to receive international recognitions, as both were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, albeit the latter was permanently banned in Czechoslovakia. In the face of the imminent invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1968, he fled to America. There he enjoyed an eminent career, twice winning the title of Best Director at the Academy Awards with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984). In 2018, he passed away in Connecticut, USA, at the age of 86.