The Firemen’s Ball (Milos Forman, 1967)

The Firemen's Ball

Well, THIS was a revelation! One of the best films I’ve seen, and that only because it looked interesting on Mark Cousins’ Story of Film that we rented the DVD.

Milos Forman’s last Czech film before moving to Hollywood, this has a claim to be his finest film, surely? It’s a good-hearted but fairly black comedy set in a small town where the Firemen are preparing their annual ball, in which they are going to honour their honorary president, carry out a beauty pageant, and hold a raffle for good causes. Unfortunately, the young women don’t want to take part in the pageant and the prizes keep disappearing. And the president of their association is dying of cancer, though nobody is allowed to tell him.

This film is very funny, sometimes moving and sometimes savagely ironic about the bureaucracy the townspeople have to endure though it doesn’t lose track of the fact that these are firemen, and can be brave when required, even if they lack the means to be an effective firefighting crew – there is a scene of terrible sadness when the firemen can do little but get someone out of his house and then watch it burn.

The story follows mostly mundane people in a dreary setting but the movie itself is never mundane or boring. It’s brought to life by a properly cinematic way of storytelling, with understated acting and tremendous camera-work (some of the tracking shots following characters through the crowds are stunning) keeping everything ticking along. Probably my standout film of the year, even if was made before I’d started nursery.

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