This film was first released in 1967. It is set in the old Czechoslovakia and follows a ball held by the fire department of a small town. It was directed by the talented Milos Forman and it is a gentle comedic farce which is now enjoying a re-release by Arrow Films. It was actually banned because censors at the time viewed it as political allegory although Forman always denied this.
It is an interesting film made up of small scenes which play out like comedic anecdotes. The firemen are holding their annual ball complete with raffle, dancing and a beauty contest. Everything that could go wrong does go wrong and halfway through the night they are all called away to deal with a fire which leaves an old man completely destitute. The partygoers respond by offering up their raffle tickets but by the time they present these to the old man most of the prizes have already been stolen.
As the night descends into farce there are poignant moments amongst the chaos. Not least the presentation to the former chairman of the fire station, he waits patiently all night to be awarded his gift and then makes a passionate speech before being handed an empty box.
The situational comedy works very well and the people of this small town are a likeable and believable bunch. The setting and characters are incredibly authentic and that is largely because there are few actors in the film. Forman actually used some real firemen and people from the small town he filmed in along with a few actors. He filmed them in their natural habitat at rest, work and play.
The skill in the direction is evident and Forman captures moments of humanity which any culture would recognise. He wrote the film after visiting an actual Fireman's Ball and witnessing a total disaster. He is careful not to be cruel with his subjects and the overall tone of this charming film is warm.
The Fireman's Ball only lasts 71 minutes and it makes for gentle entertainment in which the comedy feels natural and unforced. There are obvious signs that Forman himself is a talented director, this was his first colour feature and it would be another eight years before he would direct the classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.