The Firemen’s Ball
A film by Milos Forman
Czechoslovakia / 1967 / 73 minutes / Col
5.45pm; 20th July 2014; Perks Mini Theater
A milestone of the Czech New Wave, Milos Forman’s first color film The Firemen’s Ball is both a dazzling comedy and a provocative political satire. The last and funniest movie Milos Forman would make in his native Czechoslovakia. Presumed to be a commentary on the floundering Czech leadership, the film was “banned forever” in Czechoslovakia following the Russian invasion and prompted Forman’s move to America.
This 73-minute movie, its premise scarcely more than an anecdote, finds an entire universe in the benefit gala staged by a group of inept, officious, mildly corrupt—in short, intensely human—volunteer firefighters. The Firemen’s Ball was shot in Vrchlabí with an entirely nonprofessional cast. The protagonist is the town itself. Forman has assembled an impressive ensemble of grotesque types and fantastic faces. The movie’s droll naturalism occasionally flirts with cuteness, but its deadpan comedy is darkened by an unwaveringly clear-eyed view of human stupidity and deception.
The ball is a series of small catastrophes, absurd ceremonies, and inane intrigues—these rendered all the more ridiculous by the firemen’s tendency toward self-important official rhetoric and coercive authoritarianism. Just about everything that can go wrong does. Decorations fall from the ceiling. The brass band misses its cues.
Forman is not making fun of his characters, but of the system they inhabit. Yet censors criticized the film. Forman doesn't push his political points, being content to let them make themselves, unfolding gracefully from the human drama. The movie is just plain funny. And as a parable it is timeless, with relevance at many times in many lands.
Milos Forman was born Jan Tomas Forman in Caslav, Czechoslovakia, to Anna (Svabova), who ran a summer hotel, and Rudolf Forman, a professor. During World War II, his parents were taken away by the Nazis, after being accused of participating in the underground resistance. His father died in Buchenwald and his mother died in Auschwitz, and Milos became an orphan very early on.
Formane studied screen-writing at the Prague Film Academy (F.A.M.U.). In his Czechoslovakian films, Black Peter (1964), Loves of a Blonde (1965), and The Firemen's Ball (1967), he created his own style of comedy. During the invasion of his country by the troops of the Warsaw pact in the summer of 1968 to stop the Prague spring, he left Europe for the United States.
In spite of difficulties, he filmed Taking Off (1971) there and achieved his fame later with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) adapted from the novel of Ken Kesey, which won five Oscars including one for direction. Other important films of Milos Forman were the musical Hair (1979) and his biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Amadeus (1984), which won eight Oscars. (Source: IMDB )