Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Firemen's Ball [1967]


The Firemen’s Ball was quite an event in the career of Milos Forman, who would later become a darling of Hollywood what with his One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. It was his first film made in colour; but more importantly, it was his last movie in his native Czechoslovakia before he headed for America just in time to escape Prague Spring. The movie, which got banned in the country, is about a disastrous ball hosted by a group of middle-aged firemen in honour of their old retired chief. The crisp length and hilarious gags belie the movie’s immense artistic worth. It is a brilliant, anarchic, genre-bending classic whose comic timings would leave everyone laughing out loud, but whose subversive humour and satirical insights into a society behind Iron Curtain would not escape even those unaware of the then political turmoil surrounding the country. The actors, mostly non-professionals, did a remarkable job in bringing forth the farcical events that ensue over the course of the evening (interestingly, a number of members of the cast were repeated from the movie that preceded it, Forman’s delightful comedy Loves of a Blonde). The fact that Forman could infuse even the boisterous proceedings with a few moments of deep pathos and subtle (yet pinching) observations made the movie one for the ages, and along with a similarly subversive socio-political satire by Jiri Menzel, Closely Watched Trains, forms a cornerstone of the Czech New Wave.








Director: Milos Forman
Genre: Comedy/Political Satire/Social Satire/Black Comedy
Language: Czech
Country: Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia)

7 comments:

Just Another Film Buff said...

A hilarious movie, especially the beauty contest sequence. Especially this one:

"The good name of the fire brigade means more to me than any honesty"

Omar said...

I have not seen this one but they way you describe it immediately reminds me of '12:08 East of Bucharest'; political satire. I'm not sure about Milos Forman's career in Hollywood; what do you think?

Just Another Film Buff said...

Hey Shubhajit,

Many more happy returns of the day.

Cheers!

Shubhajit said...

@ Srikanth: Thanks buddy for the wishes :) Yeah, this is indeed one hilarious movie. Even the 'stealing of prizes' part was great.

@Omar: That's a great point you've made. Yeah, a number of Romanian movies of recent years like 12:08 East of Bucharest, California Dreamin' & even Death of Mr. Lazarescu are wry, black comedies and stinging social (if not political) satires quite in the same vein of a number of Czech New Wave classics. In fact, 4 Months 3 Weeks... & Shop on Main Street were aberrations for me, even though they too were as exceptional as the others.

Sam Juliano said...

"It is a brilliant, anarchic, genre-bending classic whose comic timings would leave everyone laughing out loud, but whose subversive humour and satirical insights into a society behind Iron Curtain would not escape even those unaware of the then political turmoil surrounding the country."

Simply magnificent, Shubhajit! I have not read a better and more economical summation. I prefer LOVES OF A BLONDE among his Czechoslovakian work, but certainly this film which recalls Bunuel's THE EXTERMINATING ANGEL is a damning indictment on the middle class, and cruelty does trump the humor in the proceedings, where a number of corruptive revelations are unearthed. Dead-on that you mention Menzel's CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS, which is one of the greatest of Czech New Wave films.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam for the good words.

Well, either of Loves of a Blonde or Firemen's Ball could be higher in my favourites (respective to each other) depending on various factors ranging from my mood to perhaps even the weather condition - they are that close. But Firemen's Ball was probably the more accomplished of the two, because of its subversive humour. And yeah, I agree that at times it was a tad cruel too. But then, truth often seems harsh and cruel. Perhaps one of many inspirations behind the Coens' works, esp. Fargo, what do you say?

Great that you reiterate the analogy between Firemen & Closely Watched Train. I feel the latter deserves far more effusive praise than the sporadic appreciations that it currently elicits among movie-viewers & critics. It was an outstanding movie to say the least.

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