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      The Firemen's Ball

      1967 1 hr. 13 min. Comedy List
      91% 32 Reviews Tomatometer 82% 1,000+ Ratings Audience Score In Milos Forman's satire on Communism set in a small Czechoslovakian town in the 1960s, the local firemen decide to organize a ball, however the proceedings are dogged by difficulty at every step. They plan to organize a beauty pageant at the ball, yet struggle tremendously to find enough pretty contestants. A lottery is planned for later in the evening, but the guests begin stealing the prizes. Then, inevitably, there is a fire in the town... It seems that whatever can go wrong, does go wrong. Read More Read Less

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      Critics Consensus

      The Firemen's Ball is an uproarious comedy of incompetence, mining laughs and sharp satire from an allegory that is amusing and distressing in equal measure.

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      Matthew B The satirical content of The Firemen's Ball is applied lightly. While the story is a metaphor for communism, it can be enjoyed simply as a comedy about inept firemen trying to organise an event that is beyond their competence. Indeed some firemen organisations in Czechoslovakia complained that the film was an attack on their dignity. Events in the film were inspired by a real fireman's ball that Forman and the other screenwriters Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papoušek had recenty attended. Forman denied setting out to make a film that was an allegory, but he acknowledged that this aspect of the story would come out in the writing, and he made no effort to discourage this interpretation. Here we see the gap between these men's dreams of a dignified send-off to their former chief, and the reality of their abilities to accomplish such an event. The opening credits show dignified group photographs of firemen. The firemen we see in the film are a rough and ready lot with no hint of glamour. Forman employed few professional actors. The people we see are real locals, and even actual firemen. It is clear that the firemen organising the ball want the event to be a success, but their own failings get in the way. A raffle has been arranged. While there are some decent items of food on display, most of the prizes are distinctly grubby. This does not prevent all the guests – and many of the organisers – from stealing as many prizes as they can get their hands on. Then there is the Miss Fireman event. The firemen look wistfully at pictures of a previous beauty contest, where the room is lined a large number of shapely women in bathing suits. Their attempt to repeat this success yields only a small number of contestants who are homely at best. Some were only added due to pressure from other people, including a daughter who looks just like her father, and not in a good way. While the event is taking place, a real fire breaks out. A man's home is burned down as the firemen try to unsuccessfully free their fire engine, which is stuck in the snow. A number of the guests come to watch the flames, and one of the homeowner's rescued tables is used to sell them beer. Attempts by the firemen to comfort the distraught victim are well-meant but inept. Fearing that he might be cold, their response is – to move him closer to the fire that is burning down his home. The parallels with Communism can easily be found. Like the Czech government, the fire officials belong to an organisation that is theoretically well-meaning in terms of helping others, but which is incompetent and corrupt in practice. Many of the characters do not have names, as if they are part of an organisation that offers no humanising identity. The firemen's attempts to raise funds are undermined by kleptocratic actions that remove the means to help others, leaving only inadequate gestures. The houses of the people have symbolically burned down, and all the authorities can do to help is to move them closer to the fire. When one of the firemen is caught trying to return a prize that he stole, his colleagues are only disgusted because he got caught. "The reputation of our Brigade is more important than your stupid honesty." It is easy to imagine a bureaucrat in a totalitarian state saying that about any attempt to highlight its failings. Forman may not have been laying on a heavy-handed attack on Communism, but the allegory is there for all to see. However this has not dated the film. The Firemen's Ball can be enjoyed on a surface level as pure comedy. In any case, regardless of political system, we have all experienced enough official incompetence to see something universal in the film. I wrote a longer appreciation of The Firemen's Ball on my blog page if you would like to read more: Rated 5 out of 5 stars 08/24/23 Full Review Leaburn This film was average 🤏 Rated 2.5 out of 5 stars 12/25/22 Full Review isla s Ever hear of an event where nearly everything goes wrong? with those in authority being somewhat incompetent? well, this is a short film (1 hour 15) where that pretty much is the case. Watching the old men try to work their way around various unforeseen circumstances is amusing in a bumbling and cringe-y way. I believe its intended as a piece of political satire, which makes sense to an extent. Certainly when the fire is discovered outside and the locals rush to get out and see whats going on, its a bit like those in power 'fiddling while Rome burns'. I wouldn't say it entirely comes across as political as such, though there are certain points where you could make political points I guess. Its mildly amusing but not full of big laughs. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 03/31/23 Full Review Michael M The Firemen's Ball is an excellent work of social satire which brough director Milos Forman to international attention. While it would be fair to say that the film lost some of its impact with the collapse of Czechoslovakia's communist government, it will remain resonant as long as official incompetence and corruption exist. Rated 4 out of 5 stars 12/08/21 Full Review William L Though it doesn't receive nearly the same level of recognition as some of its Western European counterparts, pre-Soviet Czech film (particularly of those of the Czech New Wave) had some absolutely fantastic jewels before the invasion. A comedic spoof of social conduct and bureaucracy, with particular relevance to the Communist Party that would soon be sending troops in to quash just this sort of criticism, The Fireman's Ball is full of incompetence, lechery, and adherence to strict codes of conduct at the expense of any sort of practical benefit. The firemen find themselves caught up in a web of misfortune and deceit that results in an endless stream of gags, such as the constant theft of their door prizes, the catastrophic disorganization of a beauty contest that devolves into a strange ritualistic exhbition, and incessant deflection of blame for all of it within their own ranks; this ends up distracting them from an actual fire in the town and the devastation of one man's life, to which their response is to ... attempt to collect cash for unspent bills, use the man's unburned furniture to sell drinks, turn his chair away from the fire as to essentially ignore the problem, and then attempt to compensate him with raffle tickets that are now worthless because every prize has been stolen. A top-shelf comedy with social bite that must be considered among Forman's best, even when considering the classics that he directed ater his emigration to the United States. (4/5) Rated 4 out of 5 stars 05/24/21 Full Review Audience Member Slight but amusing early Milos Forman comedy, almost plotless and like a Gogol short story directed by Robert Altman. At a small-town village hall a group of middle-aged firemen plan to honour their retiring chief by throwing a large gala, complete with a beauty pageant and raffle. Trouble is, they are hopeless at both. And then there's a real fire. Forman is expert at recording the comedy of minutiae, the looks, the hesitance, the unvarnished chaos of human behaviour, and he elicits terrific performances from his large ensemble of unknown Czech actors. Rated 3.5 out of 5 stars 01/27/23 Full Review Read all reviews Post a rating

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      Critics Reviews

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      Richard Brody New Yorker In 1967, the year before Soviet tanks rampaged through Czechoslovakia, the Czech director Milos Forman subtly, scathingly used the premise of a quaint provincial party to mock the Party. Sep 18, 2017 Full Review Dave Kehr Chicago Reader With Loves of a Blonde, it's the best work Forman's done, rooted in a social reality that has eluded him in his American projects. Sep 19, 2014 Full Review TIME Magazine A delicious parody-fable of Slavic bureaucracy. Sep 19, 2014 Full Review Paul Schrader Los Angeles Free Press A showcase for [director Milos] Forman's unique talents. Jan 24, 2020 Full Review David Harris Spectrum Culture In the microcosm of the ball, there are no bad intentions, just ideas of grandeur that fall sweetly short. Oct 9, 2019 Full Review Lauren Humphries-Brooks Suddenly A Shot Rang Out The film is shot through with the darkest of Czech humor-everyone, from the committee to the people to the landscape itself is the butt of a joke, representative of petty rivalries, drunken idiocy, and smug leadership that cannot lead. Oct 11, 2018 Full Review Read all reviews

      Movie Info

      Synopsis In Milos Forman's satire on Communism set in a small Czechoslovakian town in the 1960s, the local firemen decide to organize a ball, however the proceedings are dogged by difficulty at every step. They plan to organize a beauty pageant at the ball, yet struggle tremendously to find enough pretty contestants. A lottery is planned for later in the evening, but the guests begin stealing the prizes. Then, inevitably, there is a fire in the town... It seems that whatever can go wrong, does go wrong.
      Milos Forman
      Production Co
      Filmové studio Barrandov
      Original Language
      Release Date (Streaming)
      Nov 19, 2018
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