The Firemen’s Ball (Hori, ma panenko)

The Firemen's Ball

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The last film Milos Forman made in his native Czechoslovakia before he was forced to leave the country, The Firemen’s Ball is a farce of the highest order. Comedies are uncommon enough on the list, and even rarer are the ones that are actually funny, so where does The Firemen’s Ball stack up? It’s not laugh out loud funny (though I did chuckle a few times during the film’s rather short running time), but I was thoroughly amused the whole way through.

The film takes place over a single evening, during which we watch as the eponymous firemen of an unnamed village host their ball, to which it seems damn near everyone in town shows up. The short set-up scene that serves as the opener lets us know that the planning of the ball doesn’t go exactly without a hitch, and as can be easily expected, the ball itself quickly collapses in on itself, culminating in an alarm for an old man’s house burning down, during which the firemen show just how far their ineptitude reaches. All I knew going into this was that it was a comedy, but as I’ve found with comedies on the list, you can’t expect to be actually laughing through them. With those expectations in mind, I got a lot out of The Firemen’s Ball. It’s pretty funny, in an amusing way, as we watch as more things go wrong one after another, and no one can seem to handle any of it. I was also struck by Forman’s beautiful use of color in this film. Everything was crisp and eye-catching, and for how short the film is, it packs a lot into what it does have.

Of course, being a foreign Czech comedy from the 60s, like Daisies, there’s apparently a lot of political subtext beneath everything that happens, as things in the ball begin to unravel, and like Daisies, I didn’t get all that much of it, not being from the place or time period. Forman himself will deny that such political subtext exists, but it seems to be unconscious with these sort of films. Still, I found this to be a nice, short little escapade, one that I did not feel at all winded at the end of it, like so many other trying tests that are on the list. Really looking at it, there’s very few reasons for anyone to try and avoid this one; not only does it have a lot going for it, it doesn’t overstay its welcome, and it rarely, if ever, makes a misstep. I can see why Forman would become a well-regarded director in America from what he gives here.

Arbitrary Rating: 8/10

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