Milos Forman, known for excellent dramas like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest", "Amadeus", "The People vs Larry Flynt", was once a prominent Czech film-maker, who made light-hearted comedies. He found himself limited under the communist rule and left for United States after the 1968 Russian invasion. Before the Russian tanks devastatingly crushed the brief uprising in Prague, Milos Forman made this classic comedy, "The Firemen's Ball" (1967).
Background HistoryAfter the end of World War II, close to 3 million ethnic Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia. With the Allied approval, their properties and rights were declared void and soon the country came to fall within the Soviet sphere of influence. In 1948, communists took power and declared Czechoslovakia as "People's democracy", although it's a preliminary step towards socialism, and ultimately communism. In 1968, Alexander Duncek, a Slovak reformer, carried a reform movement to take a step further in the direction of liberalism. Television, radio and newspapers were called up for reformist propaganda purposes. The foreign policy statements and reforms of the Dubček leadership created great concern among Soviet Union. In august 21, 1968, Russians invaded Czechoslovakia and Soviet troops continued to occupy the country until 1989, before the anti-Communist revolution started on November 16, 1989.
Firemen's Ball, a modest satire set at the annual ball of a small town's volunteer fire department, nearly resulted Forman being put in prison. He was accused of sabotaging the socialist society. The movie was banned permanently by Communist censors at the time. Producer Carla Ponti was paid off for the film rights by French New Wave film-maker Francois Truffaut to prevent the comedy classic from being destroyed.
PlotA group of firemen from a small Czech town prepares a fundraising ball and an unrehearsed beauty pageant in the town hall. The ball has met formally for the purpose of awarding an honorary hatchet to a retiring fire chief, who is 86. The poor guy keeps waddling forth to receive his award, but every time the firemen's band plays, it is for some other part of the ceremony, a beauty contest or a raffle. An effort to pick girls for the beauty contest leads to heavy searching in the dancing, drinking crowds. A gigantic table filled with prizes,beers and foods starts to vanish even before the party starts.
Just when the girls are being circled to parade, the ball is interrupted by a real fire, in an old man's house nearby. The old sits watching his house burn down as the fire truck is caught in a snowdrift. At the ball, the lottery prizes are found to have been stolen and the honorary award to the old man, when presented at last was found missing. The film is filled with humor, dense in each and every detail, which works only on screen and not in prose.
AnalysisThe thoroughly entertaining 74-minute movie has no stars and the ensemble is full of non-professional actors. The firemen shown on the movie are really the firemen of that particular small town. So, by this non-professional cast we witness people playing themselves. The citizenry in that small town is poor, where they pilfer food in a party to improve their impoverished existence. Forman directs his attack on the Communist system by focusing its effects of polices on a working class community. As a social satire, he ridicules all of his characters, but he doesn't judge his characters' absurd and ignorant behavior.
The center part of the movie has this hilarious search for the ball's beauty queen. The firemen committee, which parallels Communist government structure set out to find candidates, eyeing beauties from afar, seeking high vantage points to examine bosoms better and accepting practically anyone willing to degrade herself. Like this scenario, the committee (directly paralleling Communist officials) proves incompetent and focuses entirely on wrong things.
Milos Forman stated that one scene particularly enraged the party leaders: the party hosts ask that all stolen items be returned to the table during a momentarily period of darkness. A fire brigade member suffers from the guilt and attempts to return a headcheese, that his wife has stolen, and at that right moment the lights goes on. A fellow colleague supports the errant member's actions and justifies that they would do the same. To that another member responds "Never! Never in this situation. The good name of fire-brigade means more to me than any honesty, you pig-head."
Firemen's Ball is seen as a gentle ironic comedy, and like a series of short sketches, the comedy entertains at a superficial level. The movie is universal because the ludicrous protocols and misplaced priorities are seen at societies, everywhere. It's also about moral stupidity, where people, whose life work is preserving life, fails each other through insensitivity and selfishness. "Firemen's Ball" is certainly worth examining, since it works both as a political satire and a literal comedy.
Firemen's Ball - IMDb