The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. That one sentence perfectly sum’s up Milos Forman’s last film in his native Czechoslovakia, THE FIREMEN’S BALL (1967).
The plot itself seems simple–a group of volunteer firemen in a Czech village plan a ball to celebrate their retiring police chief, who may or may not know he is dying of cancer. There is to be much drink and dancing, as well as a raffle for luxurious food and home goods, and a beauty contest for the local young women. One by one the prizes disappear. The candidates for Beauty Queen have no desire to take part in the contest, and those who want to be candidates aren’t the most desired. An old man’s house catches fire while all the available firemen are off getting drunk. Anything that can go wrong does.
I would have expected that you’d need seasoned, experienced comedic actors to pull off the timing needed to keep this movie moving well. Instead, Forman cast actual villagers, including the aging fire crew. Their authenticity made the characters and their situations seem perfectly believable. The humor isn’t ironic but honest from real reactions to absurd situations.
THE FIREMEN’S BALL is a thinly veiled allegory of Czechoslovakia’s communist regime; the best of intentions easily became overcomplicated and even dangerous. The Marxist government gave the film a lifetime ban in 1968, and in 1969 it was nominated for an Academy Award. Director Milos Forman was forced to leave the country and emigrate to America. Here he would go on to direct ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST (1975) and AMADEUS (1984).
A side note–this YouTube file has the subtitles out-of-sync by about five minutes. The movie’s plot is simple enough that you can still follow it. The timing being just a little off even ads to the absurdist humor:
Question of the night: what’s the most delicious thing you’ve eaten at a party?