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This seminal work is a must for serious fans of Czech film
Matthew-3130 December 1998
Warning: Spoilers
This film is a cult classic in Milos Forman's native Czech Republic, where the previous Communist regime banned it for its biting social satire (and because Forman emigrated to the US).

The director brings out a number of themes and devices that would become his trademarks on later award-winners such as "One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Hair" and "Amadeus". Non-actors and first-timers predominate in the cast, giving the film a gutsy realism. As in Forman's later films, the pace and tone of the film are light and comedic, setting the viewer up for the shock of the tragic denouement. And it is worth noting that the film's cameraman (M. Ondricek) and art director (K. Cerny) later continued to work with Forman in Hollywood, winning Oscars as well.

The Czech subtitle translates roughly as "In which they dance, steal and extinguish" and that about sums it up. A retiring small-town fireman is treated to a farewell ball by the rest of the brigade. The retiree, clearly a holdover from the pre-war democratic society, represents the old values of personal decency and integrity, contrasting pointedly with his younger colleagues. Most of the film is taken up by the ball itself and depiction of the townspeople involved. The characters drawn range from gentle caricature to fierce satire. Highlights include a hastily-arranged beauty contest (each girl uglier than the next), a table full of disappearing door prizes (another one is gone every time you look - and the couple guarding the table are doing some of the stealing, too) and the final presentation of the award to the retiree: the box with the ceremonial fire-ax is empty, but the old man stoically hides his confusion and disappointment.

In these episodes Forman is indirectly criticising not just a decadent society but the Communist regime whose lawlessness and twisted sense of values brought about the decay. The final moments of the film - when an actual fire breaks out in the town - make the point uncompromisingly: people have forgotten what is really important in life.

If you don't care much for European films and aren't interested in life in the former East bloc, this film may seem tedious and the humor hard to understand. But if you want to see one of the classic films of the Czech New Wave and gain an insight into the early development of an Oscar-winning director, this film is definitely worth an hour and a half of your life.
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9/10
Sincere comedy takes place at a drunken Czech firemen party
GoatPoda17 February 2000
Often hilarious comedy was an early effort by Forman. The characters reveal their attributes and flaws over the course of a drunken bash that involves stealing, sex, abundant alcohol consumption, and a Fireman's Ball Beauty Contest. Forman had to deny that there was a political message behind the film in Socialist late 60's Czechoslavakia. He has a rare talent for presenting humans, not necessarily pretty, but engaging and natural. Forman encourages us in an introduction to not think too much.
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10/10
Avoid it if you must
Alexandar23 May 2005
The Firemen's Ball (1967) **** Watching Forman's acclaimed comedy ''The Firemen's Ball'' was a very unique movie-going experience. It is filled with the extraordinary subtle humor, compassion for its characters, very realistic setting, acting & feeling and some brief satire. It got various reviews upon releasing. Some critics hailed it as a minimalistic masterpiece (Roger Ebert) others just was ''resistant'' to it's so-called charm (Leonard Maltin). I just know I wasn't. Judge for yourself. I can't, however, recall so sharp and intelligent script and so believable performances packed in mere 70 minutes. I find it superior to acclaimed Oscar winning Czech comedy filmed a year before by Jiri Menzel – ''Closely Watched Trains''. By the way, interesting note: Czechoslovakian movies were nominated four years in a row for the Best Foreign Language Oscar in 1960ies. ('65, '66, '67, '68). Two of them won it (''Shop on a main street'' in 1965 and ''Closely Watched Trains'' in 1967) and two didn't (''Loves of a Blonde'' in 1966 and ''The Firemen's Ball'' in 1968).
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10/10
One of the Top-Five Comedies Ever
Mihnea_aka_Pitbull27 March 2009
Without hesitation, I place "The Firemen's Ball" to the apex of world comedy, together with Buster Keaton's "The General", Stanley Kramer's "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad Mad World", Mel Brooks' "Young Frankenstein" and Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot".

Funny-wise, this is the definition of INTELLIGENCE, WITS, SPIRIT, INSPIRATION, BRIGHTNESS. The laughs are coming non-stop, in an atrocious vein. But there is much more than that...

Yes, there is much more - because, all being said and done, we watch an extremely sad story... The poor blundering provincials, limited, foolish, ridiculous in their stupidity, pathetically try to have a good time, and they only arrive to set-up a grotesque, sub-human masquerade... Innocent in their insanity, childish in their ignorance, their solemn ball looks like a parade of apes dressed as human beings. And the (you-know-what) hits the fan at the moment when things get really serious: the fire at Pan Havelka's house. During that excruciating scene, we really see the fallacy of it all.

The ending - all of it! - is the top of the masterpiece. The solemn delivery of the homage (that was stolen also from its case!), followed by the dawn shot of the two poor old men covering themselves with the same blanket, under the gently beginning snow-fall, is worthy of Chaplin. Definitely, with this movie, Forman offered a priceless heritage to the world of cinema - and culture; and spirit; and HUMANITY.
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7/10
Milos's Greatest Achievement
jay4stein79-15 March 2006
Warning: Spoilers
If you're only familiar with Milos Forman through his latter-day works, such as the People vs. Larry Flynt, Man on the Moon, Amadeus, or even Cuckoo's Nest, you should probably do yourself a favor and seek out his earlier films made in his native Czechoslovakia. Made during that country's years as a Soviet satellite, The Firemen's Ball can be seen as an underhanded commentary on the shambles of communist rule but more importantly it can be seen as an exploration of human foibles.

Abiding by Murphy's Law, apparently, everything that can go wrong does go wrong with the Firemen's Ball, planned to celebrate the retired fire chief who is now dying. Prizes are stolen and ugly girls become contestants in a beauty pageant. It's all very funny and everyone is quite silly, but the film doesn't lack empathy. Forman sympathizes with his characters because he knows that they're just like the rest of us--bumbling through life causing and becoming affected by minor catastrophes.

As I said, it's very funny but not without a tinge of melancholy, which primarily emanates from the old chief. The film recognizes that, yes, these mishaps are funny but sad too--sad because this is the only send-off the old man is likely to receive and sad because he doesn't necessarily want the send off. The film is an amazing amalgamation of pathos and humor, quite like some of Woody Allen's more inspired comedy-dramas (Manhattan comes to mind).

This is whimsical film-making at its best and a wonderful, if too short, film. Forman has attempted to capture the same sense of silliness, spontaneity, and joy in his American films, but they come up somewhat lacking. Along with Loves of a Blonde, this is likely his crowning achievement and for what posterity should remember him. From my perspective, it's also the film most like Forman himself. About six years ago, I met him at a film festival in upstate New York. He shuffled into a panel discussion with Michael Ondaatje, Paul Schrader, and Russell Banks about fifteen minutes late. Forman wore sweatpants and looked exhausted, yet he was the liveliest and most amusing member of that panel--you could see pieces of Tom Hulce's performance in Amadeus or Nicholson's performance in Cuckoo's Nest there. Having seen The Firemen's Ball, I know what I actually was seeing was this film in the flesh.
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9/10
Hilarious!
DrMemory11 December 2001
I'm not much of a foreign film fan, and tend to avoid subtitled films. But I ran across this film on TV one day, and it captured me.

It feels as real as a documentary, and it is as funny as movies get. You'll also pick up a real feeling of how another society might be.

Don't miss this, even if you have to buy it.
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10/10
A masterpiece indeed.
drviolin15 December 2009
This film is great taken at face value. One does not really need to know anything about Czechoslovakia or the time period to appreciate its brilliance, the same way one does not need to know much about Medieval Denmark to appreciate Shakespeare's Hamlet. Therefore, I wish some of you here would refrain from making all kinds of clever comments about communism or how this film attempts to ridicule it. It's a simple story that is both hilarious and tragic, and it could have taken place anywhere. After all, human greed, dishonesty and stupidity are all around us. It just so happens this film was made in Czechoslovakia in 1967 by a Czech director, but the message is universal, and that is what makes it so great. So, to those of you who try read a whole bunch of stuff into it, please drop the condescending western attitude and just enjoy this gem of a movie without analyzing it too much.
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7/10
Funny but awkward
charchuk17 February 2008
It's a pretty funny and witty slapstick comedy, until you realize that you're laughing at the objectification of women and the corruptness of bureaucracy. So, in that sense, it's a pretty sly sociopolitical commentary. So sly, in fact, that you don't even notice it in the film. You've got to read up on it to figure out what Forman was making fun of, and even then he denies any meaning behind the humour. The non-actors and natural dialogue add to the absurdity of the situations, and the end's got a similar sharp veer towards tragedy as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. In fact, the humour in both films is the same, as what you're laughing at really shouldn't be that funny at all, but it is. Overall, this is a light but deep (if that makes any sense) product of the Czechoslovak New Wave, and it's definitely worth a watch.
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8/10
The Firemen's Ball
random_avenger8 November 2010
Milos Forman's best known film is probably the awarded 1975 mental institution tale One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with Jack Nicholson, but his early Czechoslovakian movies are not to be missed either by admirers of his later work. The 1967 comedy The Firemen's Ball has been interpreted as an allegory for the Socialist system that had a major effect on how people lived in Eastern Europe at the time, but it also works as an entertaining little flick in its own right.

The loose plot was inspired by an actual firemen's ball that Forman and his screenwriter friends once attended. The aging fire department of a small village is arranging a ball in honour of their elderly chairman who is turning 86 and, unbeknownst to him, dying of cancer. The program is to include at least music, dancing, a beauty contest for the ladies and a lottery with various prizes, but it seems that Murphy's Law is alive and well in the village: the lottery prizes keep getting stolen at an increasing rate, nobody wants to participate in the beauty pageant and the general chaos grows more and more out of control. Soon the firemen get to demonstrate their occupational skills in a genuine incident.

Most of the actors were reportedly real firemen from the town where the movie was shot, but despite their lack of acting experience they fit in their roles perfectly. The grumpy men's arguments about the stressful arrangements are pretty hilarious, but the women are funny too even though their roles are somewhat smaller. Also, personally I didn't find any of the reluctant beauty contestants ugly at all, unlike the frustrated committee members! In addition, I should give a nod to the catchy ballroom music that is playing for a lot of the time and even references a Beatles song at one point. It is possible that the atmosphere-driven collection of errors and misadventures may feel aimless to some viewers who would prefer a stronger plot, but those with a fondness for looser narratives should find it easy to enjoy the firemen's adversities.

Besides the comical bumbling, there are also more melancholic moments in the short movie. The fire scene near the end carries a feel of powerlessness when an old man watches his house burn down while the firemen futilely try to put the flames out by shoveling snow into the fire. Still, the service of drinks is never interrupted during the turmoil, keeping up appearances no matter what. The whole plot line of the stolen lottery prizes also culminates in a wistful moment when the honorary chairman finally gets to accept his gift after sincerely thanking his colleagues for the help they have given over the years. This lack of the oft-mentioned solidarity among the masses (not so much among individuals) may have been what prompted the Czechoslovakian officials to originally ban the film "forever".

As for myself, I can say I enjoyed The Firemen's Ball more than Loves of a Blonde (1965), the other early Forman film I have seen at the moment. Czech cinema in general is something I'd like to get better acquainted with later, but for now I can say that The Firemen's Ball is probably my favourite of the handful of movies I have seen from the country.
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10/10
What communism it's all about....
paul-storoz5 May 2006
Great film,meaningful, complete,short(73 min.).I'V just seen it for the first time today,a DVD Criterion Collection(a big 'THANK YOU').You have everything in there:comedy,drama,etc. I was born in Romania in '69 so I remember very well times like that. Stealing was a national sport and,unfortunately,it doesn't stop today.

If you are born and have live in a former communist country you'll treasure this film and you'll laugh with bitten tears remembering old times.If not,try to understand how life was for the others,less fortunate than you.

Don't miss the features on DVD,Milos Forman talks about the politics in that times.
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9/10
Very interesting
mariacaswell11 April 2007
I liked this movie, but then I like slower moving movies with actors that look like real people. This film gives real historical insight into a communist society, including how artists such as Forman tried to get a message through without being completely censored. I have a question about this film, however. I keep reading and hearing that this film uses no professional actors, and the firemen you see are the real firemen from a small town in Bohemia. However, several of these actors were also in Loves of a Blonde, which was an earlier film. So, I surmise that some of the firemen were the real firemen, and others were actors he had used before. This film is well worth seeing. I laughed aloud several times, and smiled through all of it. He has a gift for the small moments of humor and pathos in anyone's life, and it is quite a humorous comment on Czechoslovakian communist society.
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Superb lost comedy
mikelang4215 September 2011
Reaching 70 years young in a few weeks, I was thinking about some of the films I most enjoyed when young and would I still enjoy them now? The Fireman's Ball seems to be a lost comedy here in the UK. It never pops up on TV and does not appear in film festivals or revival houses.What a loss to those who were not alive in 1967. If your a Brit reading this think Dad's Army and then fireman instead and your nearly there.Its country of origin is Czechoslovakia,with a little help from Italy, a big hit with a best foreign film Oscar, a running time of 73 mins and not one minute wasted.A town's fire department celebrating with a ball to honour it's retired elderly chief, a beauty contest and a large table with raffle prizes that vanish one by one, that's it,but oh boy it is good, totally droll and very funny.The punchline at it's end maybe posted but who cares. If only some of the comedies today knew when to stop. Really pleased that this was one old film I rerented.
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8/10
Interesting film from Milos Forman
TheLittleSongbird2 March 2011
The Fireman's Ball was a very interesting film from director Milos Forman. I personally prefer Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, but I was surprised at how good The Fireman's Ball was. My only real problem is the length, if anything I wished the film was longer.

That said, it is very well made with a realistic setting and superb editing. Forman directs wonderfully, the script is deep and funny and the story changing from gently mocking small-town manners to a blazing allegorical satire on the incompetence of the rulers drew me right in. The pace was taut, there are many details to be admired not just with the ball but with the satire and politics too and the acting is great.

All in all, a very interesting film but not the career-best film from a talented director such as Forman. It is still worth a watch though, and works on repeat viewings. 8/10 Bethany Cox
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8/10
Firemen having a ball
Petey-1012 November 2010
The volunteer fire department in a small Czech town organizes a ball in a town hall with lottery and a beauty contest.They also plan to give a small fire axe as a 86- year old birthday gift to their honorary chairman who has a cancer (which he doesn't know).But things start going as wrong as they possibly could.Hori, Má Panenko (The Firemen's Ball) from 1967 is directed by Milos Forman.The other of its producers is Carlo Ponti.The movie uses mostly no real actors.The firemen are real firemen of the small town where it is set.But all of those people do a fine job.Jan Vostrcil plays Head of Committee.Josef Sebánek is Committee Member #2.Jan Stöckl is Retired Fire Chief.The movie has got some scenes to make you amused.It's most amusing when the man and the woman go under the table to play with each other.And when one of the beauty contestants takes off her clothes.Or when the old man starts walking towards the stage.This is the first film Forman shot in color.It is also the last film he made in his native Czechoslovakia.Then he went on to America to make some classics.
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8/10
a great way to deliver hidden messages by Forman
harshviroberai20 May 2006
What happens when a director is trying to deliver a social message where he is pointing towards our bad society through a comedy film... a ban by the government of course.

Mirlos Forman, who after this movie became one of the greatest foreign film directors, tries to point out at the white collar thieves in our society in a very comic and light hearted way.

This movie centers around a group of fireman who have organized a party to honour their former chairman who is dying of cancer. for entertaining the audience , a group of firemen try to gather a few girls in the party(each turning out to be uglier than the one before) for a fashion show.but they soon realise that all their prizes for the lottery from their prize table are being stolen one by one by the rich people in the party.

This movie is funny at times and quite entertaining. But the best thing about this movie is a lot of hidden messages Its very well edited and directed and the actors do a great job. A joy to watch!!

Enjoy
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7/10
Appealing More as a Historical Example Than a Film In and Of Itself
jzappa2 December 2008
Milos Forman's $65,000 black comedy, which clocks in just above one hour, takes place as small town firemen reckon on their festivity, are present at it, and endure it. They've arranged the titular ball in honor of their former chief, though it may be in the chief's eleventh hour. The beginning scene seems to promise an airy screwball comedy with lines like, "We should have given it to him last year, when he was 85 instead of now when he's about to die." As is made clear while the simple men theorize on the reasoning contrary to that observation that the antiquated fireman, diagnosed with cancer unbeknownst to himself, will be awarded a princely little fire ax in a velvet-padded box. Following this opening scene, a fireman balances carefully on a high ladder to carefully singe the sides of a paper banner until his ladder loses its footing, he is left dangling, and the poster bursts into flames. Beyond these actually quite underplayed scenes, the comic feel diminishes in consistency.

One scene which stands out is easily one of the funnier moments, but even still it could have been funnier: In the course of the ball, a local barn catches fire, and the firemen rush the rest of the town to the scene. But their truck getting stuck in the snow is much more pivotal and potentially funny than its execution here, as by the time they get there, the barn is overcome by an inferno. Nonetheless, there are laughs to be had at this point: The sullen farmer is staring longingly at his blazing barn, the firemen heed the suggestion that his chair be turned away from it, but the farmer simply turns his head to continue staring longingly at the barn. And when the farmer whines that he is cold, the firemen do the only thing they really can and move his chair closer to the fire.

The swelling to that scene consists of the firemen's struggle for a beauty pageant, with the queen deputized to bestow the ax. They fill a table with raffle prizes that are salivated over, as implied in a very restricted sense within the context of the film's time and place. So, the prizes begin to depart a bit too early from sight. The beauty pageant is a catastrophe of ignorance and disorganization, and not least owing to hardly any of the neighborhood girls, none of whom are beauties, have any desire to be involved.

Siding very much with the film itself concerning its treacherous political history, Forman is not scoffing at his characters, but at the system they populate. Frankly, I think the censors knew this when they condemned it as a damaging picture of Czech society, because that is the reactive approach in a fragile system that panics about criticism. Censors have always feigned the role of patriots, regarding any criticism as unpatriotic, when in effect criticism is a patriotic responsibility. Even now here in America, when the media is judged for disapproval, it most often merely signals that someone has had the nerve to probe the guiding principles of the party in power.

So, this presently obscure installment in the tremendous Criterion Collection appeals to me as a historical example, particularly with which to further open the elements of the Bush administration, and not so much for the film's content in and of itself. As a raucous comedy by Milos Forman, it today sponges no oomph from its hazardous time, as it clearly did then. And it is as a indirect topical commentary where this film gains momentum, and alas Forman cleverly for the sake of his film's spirit did not urge his political arguments, leaning back with a grin to let them make themselves, insinuating with poise from the histrionics.
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6/10
Doesn't quite stand the test of time
itamarscomix9 April 2012
Sadly, "The Fireman's Ball" can hardly be watched anymore as anything more than a historical curiosity. Without the proper background, and without knowing that it's an early work from the very same director who would later create American classics like Hair, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Man on the Moon, you'll almost definitely pass it by and you certainly can't figure out by yourself that it was considered harsh enough political satire at the time of its release that it was banned in Czechoslovakia for being damaging to the communist regime. By itself, there isn't much about The Fireman's Ball to set it apart from the British "Carry On" movies or from any other oddball comedy made in Europe in the 60's and 70's.

That's not to say the film doesn't have some excellent scenes; the one with the beauty pageant contestants in the officers' office is the most famous but certainly not the only memorable one. The humor is black and dry but the very natural acting by the local, unknown actors makes all the difference, their facial expressions telling a complete story all by themselves, and the film has some truly inspired shots (especially considering the meager budget). The great scenes are few and far-between, though, and they can easily get lost in the general messy chaos, and it's easy for the viewer to get bored quickly. To sum up, I recommend it for cinephiles and lovers of cinema history, especially cinema made under Communist regimes - I'm glad I saw it even though I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped to - but not for the general public.
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8/10
Old Flames
writers_reign8 June 2005
Warning: Spoilers
To see any film for the first time some 30 or 40 years after its initial release is to attempt the impossible, to view it through eyes not in synch with the prevailing climate be it political, social or whatever and when a given film is laced liberally with satire and/or social comment it becomes that much more difficult to view it objectively. In the hands of a master like for example Billy Wilder (his script 'Ninotchka' is still a joy today despite its barbed topicality) the finished product transcends its immediate targets and survives as entertainment and so it is here. For the last film he made on his home turf Forman has fashioned a bauble that spins around a tribute to a retired fire chief and reflected in the bauble are the mores of Czech life at the time. The dinner is destined for disaster from minute One when even a prologue is fraught with problems. As the evening progresses and one by one the raffle prizes disappear - not least into the pockets of those ostensibly guarding them - and each would-be contestant in the Beauty Contest turns out to be less prepossessing than the last, so does the laughter content because the humor is based on keen observation and when finally and in circumstances less grandiose than the organisers envisaged the presentation is made it seems only fitting that the handsome case housing the ceremonial fire axe proves to be empty. A very charming and entertaining film.
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9/10
Milos Forman's versatility and sense of humour knows no boundaries.
Sergeant_Tibbs10 July 2013
Milos Forman is one of those directors with an incredibly unique voice but such an extensive career that it's difficult to believe they're from the same man. Amadeus and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest are some of the better Best Picture choices from the Academy and Man On The Moon was a sentimental favourite back in the day. I'd always been curious about his earlier Czech career but only now have I watched The Fireman's Ball and realized that he's always been a talent. Most of its scenes feel like a farce, almost like a Jacques Tati film seen through a veritie lens. It's pure joy to watch things escalate out of control over such small things. Despite the 4:3 ratio limitations, the colourful cinematography is wonderful and it fits perfectly with the music and ensemble of characters. It's a truly great satire which is always interesting and surprising if very simple. I wish more films were like this as through its satire it says a lot about the attitudes and behaviour of society. I'm definitely going to look out for more Forman.

9/10
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6/10
More significant as piece of cinematic history than contribution to the art of comic screen writing
Turfseer13 January 2013
Warning: Spoilers
Released three months before the Soviet crackdown on the progressive Dubček administration in Czechoslovakia, Milos Forman still had to deal with a negative reaction to 'The Fireman's Ball' from both Communist censors and his own producer, Carlo Ponti. Forman's farce was intended as a good-natured ribbing of the Communist system, specifically its corruption and bureaucratic ineptness. The censors and Ponti didn't like it because in their eyes, it had no sympathy for its working class subjects, who come across as complete fools.

As the story goes, Communist officials decided to play the film in the small town where the film was shot, which featured locals playing themselves as members of the local fireman's committee. As things turned out, the officials were shocked when the townspeople vigorously applauded the film. They identified immediately with the broken down system, where a fire breaks out across the street, but the firefighters are unable to do anything, as their fire truck ends up stuck in the snow. As for their farcical characters, they regarded it as simply 'acting' and obviously were flattered to be chosen to be part of a professional film production. Forman was ultimately saved by French director Francois Traffaut, who ended up buying the film with some partners and distributing it outside of Czechoslovakia, where it was permanently banned after the Soviet invasion.

As for the film itself, 'The Fireman's Ball', manages to be distinctive, mainly on the basis of the authenticity of its performers. You have to love the amateur cast Forman has assembled here, as they seem to have a natural flair for farce. Nonetheless, the basic theme of the film, the corruption inherent in the Communist system of that time, as evidenced by the constant thefts that occur during the event, go on ad infinitum.

That's not to say there aren't occasional laughs. When the Chairman has the lights turned off, expecting the thief to return the lottery presents, when the lights do come back on, the opposite occurs: the rest of the gifts are all missing. The deepest laugh remains subtle: one of the firemen attempts to return a headcheese (cold cut) to the dining table, after he discovers his wife has pilfered it. Completely embarrassed, he passes out when everyone observes what he's trying to do and an argument ensues right afterward between two of his colleagues, one shouting down the other that by being 'honest', he's embarrassed the fire brigade. It seems that being honest, is much less desirable then looking out for one's own self-interest.

The Fireman's Ball plot involves the fire committee's inept manner in which they attempt to choose a local beauty queen. The young women who are conscripted appear not to take the fire officials seriously, and end up running off to the ladies room, where they've made it clear that they have no intention of participating in the committee's ultimate goal (the idea is for the winner of the pageant to present a memento to their retiring chief). While it's one thing for the firemen to be overwhelmed in dealing with the 'larceny problem' at the ball, it's another to come off as completely ridiculous, which is what they appear to be, when they foolishly attempt to put the pageant together and then atrociously fail, with all the young women giggling, and running away from them. Perhaps this is why Mr. Ponti, the film's original producer, did not care for the film.

Forman does well in breaking up the action at the ball, when he introduces the fire at the old man's house, near the dance hall. The event turns out to be bittersweet, as there's also some humor attached to the somber events. We see this when the crowd moves the old man closer to the fire, as he complains about being cold. And later when they want to give him some lottery tickets, he asks for money instead, as it's obvious all the prizes now have been stolen.

'The Fireman's Ball' ends on two additional humorous notes. First, the chief finally receives his honorarium from his colleagues--but of course it turns out to be stolen. And the old man whose house has burned down, joins another old man in his bed, without a roof over it!

Forman's talent here was in getting much out of his amateur cast as well as stretching out a one joke idea, to a full length feature. He makes his point about corruption in Communist society well, in a series of memorable scenes but is less successful, as he dumbs down his firemen committee members, a tad bit too much. 'The Fireman's Ball' is more important in the overall history of international cinema and world history, than as a critical contribution to the art of comic screen writing.
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7/10
a substantially political caricature on top of its ostensible frivolousness
lasttimeisaw27 July 2017
Milos Forman's third feature THE FIREMEN'S BALL is the last film he made in his motherland and Oscar-nominated in the BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM category (lost to U.S.S.R.'s mammoth WAR AND PEACE made by Sergei Bondarchuk). It is an outright comedy masked with mordant mockery of the Communist party, the story takes place on the day when the titular ball is held to honor an 86-year-old ex-chairman of the fire brigade in a small Czech town, and real-life firemen and non-professionals constitute most of the cast.

Milos Forman is unequivocally a master of satire and an adept hand in shaping up its comical story-line inside a groaning town hall peopled with local folks, the succinct diegesis (the film's running time is merely 71 minutes) chiefly concentrates on two burlesques: a droll situation of missing raffle prizes which are overseen by a hapless fireman Josef (Kolb) and his wife (Jezková) and a firemen committee's listing up proper candidates for a beauty pageant, whose winner will have the honor to confer a honorific gift to the ex-chairman as the culmination of the evening. While the former is portrayed with a peevish overtone and somewhat plebeian rejoinders, but at least it elicits some chuckle when petty larceny is revealed within one's own household; the latter is plain lowbrow hi-jinks pampering for lecherous geezers, and crass to the petticoat participants (exploitative to the younger ones and disrespectful to the motherly ones), that is not what we contemplate as comedy with class.

But the film actually ameliorates itself when a fire alarm disrupts the farce where the pageant goes awry and Forman does create something aesthetically poetic with the spectacular outdoor scenes where a house is devoured by conflagration with its intractable owner wistfully looking back in consternation and on-lookers casting lugubrious looks to the loss and incandescence, then this piteous instance precipitates the final dressing-down of the tentacles of corruption and filching among the country's populace (the lights-off tactic is so accurate for those who grow up in a Communist country and of course it backfires), where the famous line, paraphrased here "the repute of the brigade over one's own integrity" becomes an obvious fair game of the censorship, it is an outright attack on the authority's inaction and state-over-people frame of mind, one can hardly conceive it as unintentional, with its conspicuously democracy-angling slant, in hindsight it even tempts one to doubt whether Forman was deliberately concocting this film as a stepping stone for himself to bail out from the regime he can no longer consent with. A rather shrewd and dicey stratagem if it were true, and looking at where he is now? Enshrined among the rarefied two- times Oscar-winning director list with two BEST PICTURE champs under his belt, Mr. Forman is a torchbearer for many a foreign filmmaker to follow suit, whose artistic agenda is at loggerheads with stately censorship.

Having been revered as a landmark of Czechoslovak New Wave ever since, THE FIREMEN'S BALL is a substantially political caricature on top of its ostensible frivolousness, not without its own beguiling magnetism (the final shot is a coup de maître), yet it does trigger a lingering suspicion cannot be summarily dissipated, how much part has its ideology played in its road of canonization?
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7/10
concept goes from funny to sad
bure9986 February 2012
i really enjoyed the first 3/4ths of this movie. it was quaint, cute, clever and a bit off-the-wall, with likable characters and a simple but funny plot line. the scenes with the beauty show contestants and how they reacted to what was going on were priceless! without giving too much away, a fire occurs nearby while the party is going on, the whole town goes to help, and the happy, fun feel of the movie turns to depressing. the very last scene is especially heartbreaking concerning the 86-year-old former administrator. maybe my take on the first part of the movie is a bit pie-in-the-sky, but i wish the movie could have kept the silly, sweet, happy, small-town feel all the way through.
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7/10
Great European Humor
gavin694210 March 2016
The fire department in a small town is having a big party when the ex-boss of the department celebrates his 86th birthday. The whole town is invited but things don't go as planned. Someone is stealing the prizes to the lottery and the candidates for the Miss Fire-Department beauty contest are neither willing nor particularly beautiful.

The film has widely been interpreted as a satire on the East European Communist system, and it was "banned forever" in Czechoslovakia following the Soviet invasion of 1968. Forman reflected that the film was not intended to be a satire of any particular government, saying, "I didn't want to give any special message or allegory. I wanted just to make a comedy knowing that if I'll be real, if I'll be true, the film will automatically reveal an allegorical sense. That's a problem of all governments, of all committees, including firemen's committees. That they try and they pretend and they announce that they are preparing a happy, gay, amusing evening or life for the people. And everybody has the best intentions... But suddenly things turn out in such a catastrophic way that, for me, this is a vision of what's going on today in the world." And he is right. This is not anti-Soviet or anti-Czech. It plays just as well in the United States as a satire on bureaucracy, or could be seen without any satire at all... why not just a group of bumbling men? When Abbott and Costello pretend to be something, is it an insult to that profession? Of course not.
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Hilarious and very wonderful
jm1070110 January 2013
Ignore anybody who tells you you can't enjoy this movie unless you know what was going on in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. That's pompous, ignorant bull. This is a delightful, gently but ruthlessly hilarious movie about human incompetence, which is not limited to any country in any decade, or to any political or economic system.

We human beings like to imagine we're clever and competent, but were aren't and never have been. We're destroying our beautiful world and ourselves along with it, and the more we try to stop the faster we career toward self-destruction; we aim for the brakes but always hit the accelerator. We're a race of idiots, and anybody who believes otherwise is the biggest fool of all.

This is a great movie, and its greatness has nothing to do with Communism or any other ism but with its uncompromising but compassionate and very funny look at what bumbling dolts we all are. A very special and very wonderful movie.
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7/10
Enough original, Enough dramatic, Enough impressive.
ishyshman24 April 2006
When i started watch this movie i had understood - that film unusual, but not interested and even boring. But last 20 minutes was strong and significant. Sure, that film incomparable with Amadey or Larry Flint: quality and screenplay worse, scale of events insignificant, but final sense in any case very serious. Main point of film - human being is brutal, dirty, miserable... Scene with owner of burnt house (old, pitiful man) great. Exactly from this scene till end film became dramatic effect and intrigue. As for me - it very Slavic film. And it good film. When you be going to watch this film - Hold on oneself first 50 min and watch it till end: film worth it.
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