Friday, November 5, 2010

#145: The Firemen's Ball

(Milos Forman, 1967)

The Firemen's Ball is a major movie in minor-movie clothing. Created by Milos Forman just before he would flee his native Czech Republic and 8 years before he would make one of the only three movies to win all five major Oscars (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest), The Firemen's Ball is a bumbling comedy that lasts less than 80 minutes and seldom wanders away from its main event, a volunteer firemen's ball in a small Czech town. It's not an ambitious movie, either, trying to use some not-so-subtle metaphor to make a sweeping point about human behavior. It inadvertently becomes one, though, not just by the force of its technique, but by the context of its origins.

Filmed in 1967, the movie was released during the Prague Spring (an event depicted in another, totally different Criterion film, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) and managed to piss off everyone in power, ending Forman's career in his home country, no small feat for a movie that is basically just a story of some bumbling but lovable old men trying to put on a show (but with a little sex). Underneath the surface, though, is a movie about authority and human nature that could easily be seen as a comment on decreasing trust in the government, not in a cynical or angry way, but in a way that is far more dangerous. Obviously, comedy (ridicule) can often be a more effective way to speak truth to power, not only because you reach a wider audience but because extremes can often be used to highlight the hypocrisy in things. The Firemen's Ball does this very well, even if Forman insists to this day that there is no deeper meaning to the film.

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