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The Firemen's Ball (Criterion Collection)
The Firemen's Ball
Criterion Collection
Actors: Jan Vostrcil, Josef Sebánek, Josef Valnoha, Frantisek Debelka, Josef Kolb
Director: Milos Forman
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy
UR     2002     1hr 11min

A milestone of the Czech New Wave, Milos Forman's first color film The Firemen's Ball (Horí, má panenko) is both a dazzling comedy and a provocative political satire. A hilarious saga of good intentions confounded, the sto...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Jan Vostrcil, Josef Sebánek, Josef Valnoha, Frantisek Debelka, Josef Kolb
Director: Milos Forman
Creators: Miroslav Ondrícek, Milos Forman, Carlo Ponti, Rudolf Hájek, Ivan Passer, Jaroslav Papousek, Václav Sasek
Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy
Sub-Genres: Indie & Art House, Comedy
Studio: Criterion
Format: DVD - Color - Subtitled
DVD Release Date: 02/12/2002
Original Release Date: 09/29/1968
Theatrical Release Date: 09/29/1968
Release Year: 2002
Run Time: 1hr 11min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 15
Edition: Criterion Collection
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Languages: Czech
Subtitles: English

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Movie Reviews

The Personal is Political
Brian Delaney | San Diego, Ca United States | 11/19/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This delightful film of Milos Forman (Amadeus, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest) tells the story of a dance sponsored by local firemen in a small Czech village. In it, Forman sets the stage for a subtle critique of society under Soviet-style Communism. The dance itself is held to honor the retiring fire chief who is dying of cancer but of course, will not be told of this. The firemen hilariously set out to haphazardly pick girls out of the crowd for a Beauty Contest to be held during the dance (the list is constantly bickered about back and forth between the fireman and eventually lost in the confusion). Also, there is a table of assorted prizes for a raffle which is guarded over by one of the fireman and his hilariously bitchy and not too observant wife. The raffle prizes gradually start to disappear, but who is to blame? Add to this the wonderfully wacky free-for-all of a beauty pageant and a real fire and you have one of Forman's best early films. Many of the "actors" are actual local villagers and this is all for the best as human failings and character are highlighted to underscore how people living under an authoritarian society begin to think only of themselves and what they can get and also the issue of who is guilty and who is innocent in this society. Highly recommended!!"
N. N Wahlert | seattle, wa United States | 10/09/2003
(5 out of 5 stars)

"He may be bathing in millions on account of his big Oscar wins for "Amadeus" & "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest"--but director Milos Forman perfected his basic style with films like this, one of the most cherishable little comedies ever made. Indeed, its hour-and-fifteen-minute length makes one crave reliving this warm and extremely human story again and again.Made while Forman was still living under Communist rule in Czecholslovakia, "Fireman's Ball" was meant as a satire of government bureaucracy, though the story can be enjoyed purely at face value. The firemen are pathetic pillars of the community who engage in endless and logic-bending arguments over ridiculous little points, desperately nabbing any reluctant teenage girls for the beauty pageant; while the people outside are enjoying and upsetting the ball (even stealing all of the edible raffle prizes) to their hearts' content. Everybody's concerned only with himself or herself......until an outside siren leads everybody to a fire destroying an old man's house. Finally, everyone seems united in a common cause. The tragedy of the story--as well as the Czech people--is driven home.Absolutely wonderful transfer--those of us who've caught it in infrequent TV broadcasts (notably on the USA network) have had to endure white subtitles obscured in decrepit-quality prints, or lost in the screen detail. Here they are completely readable. The interviews with Forman & his erstwhile photographer Miroslav Ondricek are enlightening. My one complaint is that this Criterion Collection edition doesn't give us Forman's original English-language introduction, appended to original American & British prints of the film (he looked quite stylish in a beard).Amazing, too, that this film uses no professionals among its actors--simply friends and even schoolboy pals of Forman's."
Sweet and subversive, gentle and sly
C. O. DeRiemer | San Antonio, Texas, USA | 05/25/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)

"So is The Fireman's Ball a gentle look at the human comedy or is it a sly and subversive poke in the nose of an inept, authoritarian government? Perhaps we should take the word of director Milos Forman. It's just a gentle comedy, he'd shrug in his native Czechoslovakia after the picture was released in 1967. Of course it's subversive, he'd say, after he'd had to flee his country in 1968, when Soviet tanks were sent in to install a tougher, duller brand of Communist leaders and to snuff out the brief Prague Spring. How subversive? The new Czech leadership immediately banned the movie "permanently and forever." With all this, it's still one of the sweetest, most good-natured looks at how people behave, even their leaders, who are undoubtedly among the most bumbling, self-serving and incompetent group of men you'd ever hope to not meet.

In a small Czechoslovakian town the leadership of the fire department is planning a ball and raffle to honor their aged former chief. They'd planned to the year before on his 85th birthday but, well, they never quite got around to it. Now he's dying of cancer and they feel they really ought to do something. There will be a great banner in the meeting hall, a dance with drinks and food, a beauty contest featuring the town's young women, and a great raffle of donated delicacies, bottles of wine and toys and cosmetics.

But, oh. One thing after another happens with sweet irony, The banner burns. The girls don't want to take part. And slowly, item by item, things begin to go missing from the raffle table...first a chocolate cake, then a bottle of cognac, a head cheese, a chocolate ball. "Every one is stealing here," the wife of one blustering fireman tells him., "and you only watch, you old honest idiot!" She's the one with the stolen headcheese in her bag. The firemen's entertainment committee, a group of puffed-up aging men, dither and bicker endlessly over the details and the problems. "Busts...busts are important" is one thing they all agree on as they examine candidates for the beauty contest.

At one point the head of the firemen's committee stops the music and tells the crowd that some items have been taken from the raffle table. He says the lights will go out for a few minutes and he expects the items to be returned. The lights go off. The lights come back on. And even more items from the table are missing.

It all looks like the ball will eventually end in a shambles, but then they hear an alarm. A farm house is on fire nearby. The firemen and the townsfolk rush to the fire and manage to rescue an aged farmer in his underwear. But the fire engine is stuck in the snow. There's no water pressure. The farm house burns down to the ground. But at least the firemen find a way to comfort the cold, old man. While he watches his possessions burn, they suggest he move his chair closer to the fire to keep warm.

This is such a wry and gentle comedy, so sweet-natured, that it is reassuring to realize that the leaden hand of Czech authoritarianism is now long gone, and that this movie remains for all of us.

This Criterion presentation looks and sounds just fine. There is an excellent interview with Milos Forman."
A real treat of a movie, and an important one, as well.
Eva M. Hadaway | Miami, FL United States | 05/04/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)

"The Firemen's Ball is one of a handful of Czech films that defined the "New Wave" era, and had a profound influence on filmmakers and critics around the world. Other important films of this period include Forman's "Loves of a Blonde," Jiri Menzel's "Closely Watched Trains," and "Larks on a String" (a Menzel film that hasn't been released on DVD, to my knowledge). But Firemen's Ball is a personal favorite, probably due to the fact that I lived in the Czech Republic for five years, and attended similar village balls. The characters in this wicked satire are portrayed with humor, affection and above all a level of realism that remains unsurpassed. In the end, Forman does what he does best -- he leaves you torn between laughter and tears. This film is a must-see, especially for those who are interested in understanding how filmmaking evolved in the 60s."