Miloš Forman was one of the leading lights of the Czech New Wave with his films such as Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen’s Ball. Forman would soon after the banning of The Firemen’s Ball in 1968 after the Soviet Invasion would leave for the USA. Forman in the states would make classics like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Amadeus. Forman co-wrote The Firemen’s Ball with Ivan Passer who would also leave after ’68 and would make the masterful neo-noir Cutter’s Way in the US in 1981.
The Firemen’s Ball is basically a farcical satire and as the title suggests it takes almost exclusively during the ball. The ball includes a beauty contest and raffle but naturally it all goes wrong, the prizes go missing. There are fires and the fireman and they are too inept to try to fix the problems. The film could certainly be considered a satire on the communist rule of Czechoslovakia but Forman had this to say “I didn’t want to give any special message or allegory. I wanted just to make a comedy knowing that if I’ll be real, if I’ll be true, the film will automatically reveal an allegorical sense. That’s a problem of all governments, of all committees, including firemen’s committees.”. Forman eventually faced a 10 year prison sentence due to “economic damage to the state” but he was in France so he just decided not to go back and the Soviet invasion also happened. Godard and Truffaut picked up the rights after the Italian producer pulled his support.
Despite the relative naturalism in the film, most of the cast were non-professional actors which was common in the Czech New Wave. There is even a Kafkaesque moment in the film when the prizes go missing and everyone is considered guilty which is a theme Kafka often used in his writing. It also deals with the ridiculous bureaucracy of the fireman’s committee which again Kafka was all about. Kafka’s work was only recently released in his native Czechoslovakia in the early ’60s so much of the Czech New Wave has strands of Kafka even in the most strange places.
Forman’s Czech films may not quite have the heavy weight classic status of his later American films but they are unique snapshots of a burgeoning talent in world cinema. They are often on the surface level comedies but often with layers of sociopolitical satire and even the first couple films he made in the US Taking Off and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Forman considered them Czech films which just happened to be made in the US. Arrow’s release includes a new Hi-Def restoration along with archival interviews with Forman and Passer along with an appreciation by David Sorfa and a feature with Michael Brooke talking about the non-professional casts of Czech New Wave.