Czech Republic Mourns Milos Forman

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Milos Forman

The Czech-born director of 'Amadeus' and 'One Flew Over's the Cuckoo's Nest' died last Friday, aged 86.

Hollywood, and film lovers everywhere, are mourning the death of Oscar-winning director Milos Forman, who died last Friday at age 86.

But perhaps nowhere is the loss of Forman so acutely felt as in his homeland, the Czech Republic, where news of his death has been met with an outpouring of public grief — and affection.

Czech newspapers devoted pages of coverage to tributes to Forman over the weekend, with mass circulation tabloid Blesk running a full color cover photo of the director wreathed in smoke from his ubiquitous cigar. Television networks, including Czech public broadcaster CT1, scrapped their evening schedules Saturday after news broke of Forman's death. Instead, CT1 broadcast Forman's 1975 masterpiece One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which won five Oscars, including for best picture and best director.

Born in 1932 in the small town of Caslav in central Bohemia around 55 miles east of Prague, Forman was loved as both an exemplar of the Czech New Wave and Hollywood — where he worked after going to America following the Soviet crushing of the socialist reform movement known as the Prague Spring of 1968. Forman brought the rebellious, anti-authoritarian attitude of the Czech New Wave to his U.S. productions such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus and Hair, where the hero was always the one fighting the system.

Czech director Vaclav Marhoul, who is shooting an adaptation of Jerzy Kosinski's The Painted Bird with a cast that includes Stellan Skarsgard, Harvey Keitel and Udo Kier, recalled to The Hollywood Reporter the first time he met Forman in Prague in 1983 during the shooting of Amadeus. Forman was still under close supervision by the Czechoslovak secret police and Marhoul, who at the time was a student at Prague's film school, was warned along with other students to steer clear of the famous director. But Forman used a simple subterfuge, telling the students to meet him privately at the Rieger Restaurant in Prague.

"We waited for him outside, but did not notice that he had slipped in through the kitchen window on the ground floor (together with his dog). Just half an hour before he had outfoxed the Secret Police who were shadowing him throughout his stay. " Marhoul said. "It was a great afternoon. We spoke for almost four hours. Someone asked: 'What to do if we are living in such a big mess?' And he said: 'Well, just try to make good movies anyway. Everything is up to you...'"

"Milos Forman’s departure touched me deeply, not only because he was one of the true masters of world film but also because I knew him even before he shot his first movie Black Peter," veteran Czech film critic Eva Zaoralova told THR in an email. "Despite never being close friends, whenever we met it was like we’d seen each other just the day before, whether in Cannes, Karlovy Vary, Prague, Berlin, New York or Rome. He could certainly have thought about himself as a celebrity, but he had the uncommon ability of never being so deadly serious about himself. When I asked him in Marrakesh in 2006 what prompted him to take the job of jury chairman when he doesn’t like going to festivals, he answered, "The kids wanted to see a camel!" He approached people with a disarming naturalness, and that was a large part of the mystery of the success of his films. All those of us who knew him will miss him greatly.”

Czech producer and director David Ondricek, whose late father Miroslav Ondricek lensed Foman's Amadeus, which picked up eight Oscars, including for best picture, recalled childhood meetings with Forman, whom he regarded as an "uncle." Later, as he grew up and understood who "uncle Milos" was, Ondricek says he became a little shy around the famous director, but eventually was able to approach him for advice on his own filmmaking career.

"We often talked about movies and stories," Ondricek told Czech daily newspaper Lidovky. "I will always remember his advice: 'When a puppy is drowning in a pond it always gets to me, but if someone wants to save the whole world, I don't give a shit.'"

Speaking to THR, Ondricek added how Forman "loved people, society and humor...good food, drinks, sports and cigars…. He experienced incredibly poor years and great times. Nevertheless, he remained constant. When he did not like somebody, mainly in politics, he wasn't afraid to use harsh words. He had extraordinary narrative ability. He sat down at the table and began talking and everybody listened."

Newspaper and online news venue iDnes.cz ran pages of coverage, videos and tributes to Forman, quoting, among others, Czech director Jan Hrebejk who tweeted that Forman was "the greatest filmmaker this country ever had and one of the greatest in the world."

Czech actor and president of the Karlovy Vary international film festival, Jiri Bartoska, told The Hollywood Reporter: "Milos Forman is simply unforgettable. He will always be here. Every time you say his name, you remember the stories he told in his unmistakably deep voice, his laughter, the smoke from his cigar ever hanging in the air. But his films are what will truly remain. Milos achieved what no other Czech filmmaker ever has: He belonged to the world."