Firemen’s Ball

Miloš Forman, 1967



The legendary tragicomedy Hoří, má panenko (Firemen’s Ball), with which the then 35-year-old Miloš Forman brought the Czech part of his career to a close in 1967, ranks among the most exquisite pieces in the family silver of Czech cinematography. The unforgiving portrayal of a rural firemen’s ball is today regarded as a masterpiece of the Czechoslovak New Wave. At the time, however, it was rejected both by the state film industry and (unexpectedly) foreign co-producer Carlo Ponti. Domestic audiences had scant opportunity to enjoy Forman’s picture at the cinema: It was only screened for a few weeks after its December 1967 premiere before, accused of the gross distortion and denigration of socialist reality, being pulled from distribution. The period media repressed the fact that the film, which was to disappear into the normalisation censors’ vaults, received an Oscar nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Domestic audiences did not get to see Firemen’s Ball until 1988, in the perestroika period. After November 1989 critics accorded it the status of a remorseless satire of 1960s communist society. However, Forman himself refused to regard his film as a parable of a particular period. The passing of time has in fact revealed its timeless qualities, primarily its chillingly grim mosaic of human embarrassment, set against a real backdrop with non-actors and with an outwardly spontaneous form. In the film, wretchedness – unaccompanied by shame – engulfs its collective hero: outwardly decent citizens who reveal their weaknesses in the election of a provincial beauty queen, the theft of raffle prizes and the extinguishing of a fire at a neighbour’s cottage. The restored version, created in close cooperation with Miroslav Ondříček, lacks the original opening title stating that the film is not directed against firemen. It was tacked on – in March 1968 – in reaction to artificially stoked protests from allegedly outraged Czech firemen.
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About a film

film_production_year 1967
film_countries Czechoslovakia, Italy
film_genres comedy, satire
film_form feature
film_duration 70 min
film_director Miloš Forman
film_cast Jan Vostrčil, Josef Šebánek, František Debelka, Josef Valnoha, Ladislav Adam (2)
film_director_of_photography Miroslav Ondříček
film_screenplay Miloš Forman, Jaroslav Papoušek, Ivan Passer
film_film_editor Miroslav Hájek
film_production_designer Karel Černý
film_music_composed_by Karel Mareš
film_sound_designer Adolf Böhm