I am not quite sure where I find the time and motivation to watch such bizarre and strange films, but it is certainly a wonderful feeling to watch something weird. Miloš Forman, in my humble opinion, has directed two of the greatest films ever made – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus, but towering masterpieces that are undeniably cornerstones of the modern cinematic landscape. However, before Forman made these brilliant films, he was an offbeat Czech filmmaker that made controversial but ultimately bizarre experimental films in his home country. The Firemen’s Ball (also known as Hoří, má panenko) is most certainly one of the strangest films I’ve ever seen, but ultimately a truly enjoyable one.
At a brief 73-minutes, The Firemen’s Ball is a very curt and polite little film that never overstays its welcome. Considering that there are a few different storylines throughout the film, it could have easily gone on to be much longer without dragging. However, it is expertly paced and is tightly written and made by Forman, who stated what he needed to state with this film (The Firemen’s Ball was the last film Forman made in his home country before going into exile from the Communist regime, so there is much to discuss regarding the symbolism and overarching themes of Communism that can be found in this film, but I won’t explore that facet of The Firemen’s Ball too deeply, because there is far too much to analyze).
Complex commentary on Communism aside, a film like The Firemen’s Ball is great purely because of how it doesn’t require too much explanation (although I did find myself needing to re-watch a few scenes, because some of it was truly very confusing at times), and its rapid pace and great sense of humor will keep you captivated, and even though it is short in running time, it feels full of deep meaning and the story is compelling enough that it never feels incomplete. It has to be said that despite having so many different storylines and plot points introduced, and being a relatively short film, Forman does a fantastic job of tying up all the stories and not leaving anything unresolved, which is something many filmmakers can’t even do with a film twice as long as The Firemen’s Ball. Its because Forman almost seems to have a superhuman ability to get double the mileage out of every moment of this film, and it almost seems to be a contradiction of sorts, because it is a strange occurrence that such a fast-paced and short film can cover so much story and resolve each and every plot element brought in. If there was any doubt that Forman is an absolute master filmmaker, it can be found in The Firemen’s Ball without any doubt.
Of course, in a film such as The Firemen’s Ball, you have about a dozen characters, most of them without any name (just another charm of the film), and each member of the cast, especially those playing the titular firemen, contribute well towards the general film and while none of the actors stick out particularly from the ensemble, many of them are still very good and very memorable. My personal favorite has to be František Debelka, who plays the pedantic fireman in charge of the beauty pageant, and Jan Stöckl as the confused retired fire chief. The entire ensemble performs well, and while I doubt I will ever see any of these actors in a film again (for some reason, I can’t seem to find out if they made other films, as they are largely very obscure actors) – but they were so good in this film, I am not entirely sure there is any need for them to have done anything else anyway.
The Firemen’s Ball is a fantastic, very funny and interesting film, made in a time when the world was on the brink of complete annihilation. The behind-the-scenes story of this film and the aftermath of its release would in itself make a compelling and brilliant film on its own, so I certainly recommend not only watching The Firemen’s Ball, but also to read up on the woes that Forman faced after releasing this film. It is a fantastic film, and while it may not be to everyone’s taste, I certainly enjoyed it very much.