The Firemen's Ball Reviews
A small town fire brigade is throwing a party to honor their retiring commissioner, complete with a dance, a prize lottery and a beauty contest. Murphy's Law applies and all that can go wrong does.
Whether it's intentional or not, Forman's film has a lot to say about the fallacy of social control committees and bureaus when they run counter to common sense and human nature. The Fireman's Ball is as courageous as it is funny. Four Stars.
One scene which stands out is easily one of the funnier moments, but even still it could have been funnier: In the course of the ball, a local barn catches fire, and the firemen rush the rest of the town to the scene. But their truck getting stuck in the snow is much more pivotal and potentially funny than its execution here, as by the time they get there, the barn is overcome by an inferno. Nonetheless, there are laughs to be had at this point: The sullen farmer is staring longingly at his blazing barn, the firemen heed the suggestion that his chair be turned away from it, but the farmer simply turns his head to continue staring longingly at the barn. And when the farmer whines that he is cold, the firemen do the only thing they really can and move his chair closer to the fire.
The swelling to that scene consists of the firemen's struggle for a beauty pageant, with the queen deputized to bestow the ax. They fill a table with raffle prizes that are salivated over, as implied in a very restricted sense within the context of the film's time and place. So, the prizes begin to depart a bit too early from sight. The beauty pageant is a catastrophe of ignorance and disorganization, and not least owing to hardly any of the neighborhood girls, none of whom are beauties, have any desire to be involved.
Siding very much with the film itself concerning its treacherous political history, Forman is not scoffing at his characters, but at the system they populate. Frankly, I think the censors knew this when they condemned it as a damaging picture of Czech society, because that is the reactive approach in a fragile system that panics about criticism. Censors have always feigned the role of patriots, regarding any criticism as unpatriotic, when in effect criticism is a patriotic responsibility. Even now here in America, when the media is judged for disapproval, it most often merely signals that someone has had the nerve to probe the guiding principles of the party in power.
So, this presently obscure installment in the tremendous Criterion Collection appeals to me as a historical example, particularly with which to further open the elements of the Bush administration, and not so much for the film's content in and of itself. As a raucous comedy by Milos Forman, it today sponges no oomph from its hazardous time, as it clearly did then. And it is as a indirect topical commentary where this film gains momentum, and alas Forman cleverly for the sake of his film's spirit did not urge his political arguments, leaning back with a grin to let them make themselves, insinuating with poise from the histrionics.