The Fireman’s Ball (1967)

“The movie is just plain funny. And as a parable it is timeless, with relevance at many times in many lands. Remarkable, how often when I learn of a bureaucratic brainstorm I think of the fireman moving the farmer’s chair closer to the flames.”

‘The Fireman’s Ball’, directed by Miloš Forman in 1967, is a satirical comedy set in a small town in Czechoslovakia. The firemen of the town have organised a ball to include a raffle, a beauty contest and to celebrate the retirement of a senior member. The ball degenerates into farce as the raffle prizes are stolen by the locals, the beauty contest fails to find contestants and an old man’s house burns down. It’s short and simple, but deceptively so. The bureaucratic ridiculousness of the firemen is clearly intended as a swipe at the Communist government, and the petty incidents that occur during the film all contribute towards this satire. It feels raw: the actors are all amateur and real inhabitants of the town, but despite the fact that this shouldn’t work in a comedy it does. Forman is great at creating the illusion of real life through his casting, films such as ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’ and ‘Amadeus’ are packed with unusual looking people whose appearance adds a texture to the film. This movie is no different, and this is particularly evident in the hunt for contestants for the beauty contest. Another highlight is the farcical approach by the firemen to the fire in the old man’s house. After the fire engine is stuck, one fireman tries pitifully to shovel snow onto the fire, whilst the others sit the old man down close enough to the conflagration to keep him warm, but facing the other way to stop him being upset by his house burning down. This is both hilarious, but also a powerful and poignant political message. The fact that Forman is being so flagrantly critical of the Communist regime at such a sensitive time is a testament to his bravery and to the strength of his views.

Would I recommend it? Yes – absolutely. It’s worth watching alongside a film such as ‘Daisies’ to see two different approached to a Czech critique of the Soviets. This film, alongside ‘Daisies’ and ‘Valerie and her Week of Wonders’ demonstrates the variety of ways that politics and political protest can inform different genres.

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