Starring: Jan Vostrcil, Josef Sébanek, Josef Valnoha
Director: Miloš Forman
Running Time: 71 mins
The Firemen’s Ball (Hoří, má panenko) is a Czechoslovakian film about a group of fire officers who scramble to get control of a ball held in celebration of their superior’s birthday, but whatever they try just makes things worse.
A short and snappy comedy that’s centred mostly around silly, harmless farce, The Firemen’s Ball is a lot of fun, and a really easy-going watch throughout. With a collection of enjoyable performances that make this party’s inevitable descent into chaos all the more hilarious, I laughed a lot here, but on top of that, I was impressed and equally entertained at the film’s clever and pleasingly simple satire on the world of officials and power in the years of Communist Czechoslovakia.
First and foremost, though, this film is a great bit of fun, and while it only runs for little more than an hour, there’s plenty to laugh at throughout. Building slowly from the mishaps and antics before the party gets into full swing, and ending up with the arrival of total and utter disarray on what’s meant to be an elegant and impressive ball, the film’s simple, farcical sense of humour does more than enough to entertain.
But it’s not just a series of scenes full of people falling over, because at the core of the movie, there’s a group of high-ranking firemen who, despite a total lack of competence for anything they’re trying to do, attempt to make the ball a success, all the while getting a little something for themselves in the meantime.
Of course, this is where the film’s satire of power and corruption comes in, and while it’s far from the most subtle brand of satire you’ll ever see, its simplicity and pointed nature matches perfectly with the movie’s light-hearted, farcical sense of humour, only adding to the enjoyability factor of it all, in rather similar fashion to Armando Ianucci’s equally hilarious The Death Of Stalin.
The satire is so pointed and obvious that the film was at one point banned ‘forever’ in Czechoslovakia at the behest of the Soviet authorities, but that risky critique of the officer class and corruption adds a little more spice into the mix, and along with the film’s Pink Panther-esque farce, there’s that extra layer to affairs to enjoy as well.
Now, that extra layer is a thoroughly welcome part of the movie, because away from the satire and farce, I can’t say that there’s all that much more to The Firemen’s Ball. There’s no doubt that it more than achieves its intentions in just 71 minutes of screen time, and it’s a great comedy as a result, but there are still elements to the movie that feel a little lacking here and there.
Of course, it could be a little faster-paced, thereby ramping up the chaotic sense of it all, but my biggest problem with this film is that, for all its fun and games, it feels really rather disjointed at times.
Throughout, there are three distinct acts in terms of the principal location the story takes place in, but it’s that middle portion – at the ball – where most of the story takes place. And there, you have two or three areas of action and mishaps that don’t gel all that well together.
Directing a big party scene isn’t easy, because you’ve got to get a sense of unravelled fun and revelry across as well as making the scenes slightly intelligible. Director Blake Edwards was always the master of party scenes (Breakfast At Tiffany’s, The Party), effectively giving them that energy, all the while establishing a clear physical space in which the party takes place, thereby helping you from getting lost in the midst of it all.
The Firemen’s Ball, on the other hand, cuts from one area of the party to another, with little context as to where everything is happening in relation to everything else. As a result, not only do the separate antics feel a little cut off from each other, but it’s very easy to feel a little lost and disoriented as to what’s going on, which can prove rather frustrating at times.
Overall, though, I had a lot of fun with The Firemen’s Ball. A thoroughly funny watch over the course of little more than an hour, it’s got the light-hearted, simplistic farce to make you laugh, as well as some risky but equally simple satire to enjoy at the same time. It may not pull off the atmosphere of revelry in the party as well as possible, and the story does feel disjointed at times, but it’s still a really entertaining movie regardless, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.5.