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aka - Horí, má panenko
Czechoslovakia 1967
Directed by
Milos Forman
111 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Firemen's Ball, The

The last film that Milos Forman made in his homeland of Czechoslovakia, The Firemen's Ball belongs to a different time both in the sense that its satirical humour is gentler and that its target, the ruling Communist regime, is long gone. This tends to date it but even so it is an often wickedly funny film.  

Set in a small provincial town it is the story of a celebration that the local fire department is holding to mark the 86th birthday of its chief. The organizing committee are a group of boneheads whose main interest is in organizing a beauty contest when they are notably light-on for beauties. Meanwhile the raffle prizes are stolen and a fire breaks out in a nearby barn which, needless to say, the firemen are unable to save (in one of the best moments of the film when someone suggests that its old owner is cold they helpfully suggest that he move closer to the flames).

A classic of political satire that was banned by the Communist regime, from go to whoa, Forman and co-writer Ivan Passer (who would also emigrate to the USA and direct the 1981 cult classic Cutter's Way) poke fun at the incompetence of the organizing committee, the myth of social solidarity and even the firemen's basic ability to perform their allotted duties.  

There are aspects that have dated such as the protracted beauty pageant business but the film is a deservedly iconic example of the Czech New Wave which was shortly to be quashed by the Soviet authorities (after Czech authorities withdrew their approval, the Italian co-producer Carlo Ponti pulled out and only the intervention of Francois Truffaut saved the film and found it international distribution).




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