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The Firemanís Ball (Milos Forman) 1967

 

Filmed under the watchful eye of a Czech government, Milos Formanís The Firemanís Ball works most impressively as a political artifact. Clearly, the finished film, with its savage evisceration of the morals of not only the characters in this film, but of all similarly constructed social melodramas of the era, is an attack on Communist ideals. Since it implicitly critiques Czechoslovakiaís Stalinist purges of the 1950ís, which resulted in the deaths or imprisonment of hundreds of thousands of citizens, that it was made at all is courageous and impressive. One canít help but wish that it had a bit more substance, for those not intimately familiar with Czech history, however. The disorganized gathering that serves as the filmís setting needs to be chaotic and unformed to serve as political critique, but as narrative, it falls a little flat. The group of untrained actors that Forman collects here acquit themselves well enough, but no one really stands out. They seem cast mostly for their odd faces, Fellini-style. The plot rambles about, and though the movie is only 73 minutes long, one canít help but grow restless. The movie has a cobbled together feel that no amount of impressive, slice-of-life observation or political acumen can fully overcome.

 

Thereís no actor here to anchor us in this chaos, as there was in Formanís masterful Loves of a Blonde, and as a result, the audience will inevitably feel a bit of the restless helplessness that must be a way of life in a country run by inept Communists. The swarm of people function as a mass, in a way similar to the group heroes that were at the center of many of Sergei Eisensteinís early political works. The people that live in this system seem distinct and interesting, but the movie seems more interested in the group dynamics than the individual, so we never feel we get to know anyone. To my American, democratic sensibilities the change is a bit disorienting, and not entirely welcome. The beauty pageant, like all of the ceremony in this film, feels incredibly pointless, and while that might be Formanís point, it doesnít take long before it exhausts itself as compelling subject matter. Much of the film is funny, but the laughs feel intermittent and disconnected from the storyís thrust, so the movie never really gains momentum as a comedy. Life in the face of Communism is an oppressive, stagnant, and muddled mess, says The Firemanís Ball. Frankly, I was glad when the movie ended, so I could get back to the relatively organized normalcy of my real life. 

 

* * 1/2 

05-24-02 

Jeremy Heilman