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FIREMEN’S BALL (HORI, MA PANENKO) (director/writer: Milos Forman; screenwriters: Ivan Passer/Jaroslav Papousek/Václav Sasek ; cinematographer: Miroslav Ondricek; editor: Miroslav Hajek; music: Karel Mares; cast: Jan Vostrcil (Head of Committee), Josef Sebanek (Committee Member #2), Josef Valnoha (Committee Member), Frantisek Debelka (Committee Member #1), Josef Kolb (Josef), Jan Stöckl (Retired Fire Chief); Runtime: 73; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Carlo Ponti; Criterion; 1967-Czechoslovakia/Italy-in Czech with English subtitles)
“A lively but gross satire by Czech writer-director Milos Forman.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A lively but gross satire by Czech writer-director Milos Forman (“One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”/ “Hair”/ “Amadeus”) on small town life (really an allegory about the incompetence of the corrupting Communist regime). It’s Forman’s first color film, and the cast is made up of nonprofessionals.

At the small town’s firemen’s ball, at the firemen’s spacious meeting hall, a dimwitted power-hungry corrupt committee of elderly firemen sweat over rounding up maidens for a beauty contest. The beauty queen is to give the retired 86-year-old former fire chief a golden hatchet as his departing gift for service. As the ball pushes on, the committee runs into all sorts of ludicrous problems such as the beauty contestants being too shy to leave the cloakroom, the raffle prizes stolen one by one while a committee member guards it, under the table displaying the raffle gifts a young couple screws on the floor, the former chief wishes to leave to take a pee but stays to find his gift-giving ceremony keeps getting delayed and, finally, a nearby elderly man’s house burns down that the firemen put out. Feeling sorry for the now homeless vic, the gentle satire turns bitterly allegorical as the committee presents the man with a hat full of raffle tickets that are really worthless since the public mysteriously stole all the gifts that were left on display.

The film was well-received in the west, but was banned in 1968 by the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia. The firemen also protested until it was explained to them that the inept firefighters are only meant as an allegory against the inept Communist regime. It was the last film Forman made in his native country before his self-imposed exile in Hollywood. Unfortunately time has not been kind to this once subversive film, that now only registers as a curious ideological relic with some mild comical slapstick moments.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”