Fireman’s Ball, The (1967): Milos Forman’s Oscar Nominated Czech Film

The Firemen’s Ball was the last Czech film directed by Milos Forman, before leaving the country for the U.S. after the Soviet invasion in August 1968.

Set at the annual ball of a small town’s volunteer fire department, the film is rather whimsical and anecdotal, using no professional actors. The firemen on screen are the firemen of the small town where the film takes place.

It’s the first film that Forman shot in color, and is considered to be alongside “Closely watched Trains” and “The Loves of a Blonde,” a milestone of the Czech New Wave.

After the success of “Loves of a Blonde” (1965), Forman, along with screenwriters Ivan Passer and Jaroslav Papouek, went to the north Bohemian town of Vrchlab to hole up in a hotel and concentrate on writing. “One evening, to amuse ourselves, we went to a real firemen’s ball,” Forman recalls. “What we saw was such a nightmare that we couldn’t stop talking about it. So we abandoned what we were writing on to start this script.”

Forman has always maintained that the film has no “hidden symbols or double meanings.” However, the Czechoslovak authorities and censors viewed his film as a political allegory. The film ran for three weeks during the Dubcek era, but after the Prague Spring crackdown, it was banned.

Carlo Ponti, the film’s Italian producer, also pulled his backing. Forman to faced a possible imprisonment for the charge of economic damage done to the state. Fortunately, producers in France took the rights. The Prague Spring invasion occurred while Forman was still in Paris courting these producers, forced him to emigrate.

He immaideately made a strong impact on Hollywood and went on to win two Best Picture Oscars, for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” in 1975, and for the musical film “Amadeus.”

Oscar Alert

“The Fireman’s Ball” was nominated for the 1968 Best Foreign Language Film Oscar alongside with the epic-length “War and Peace,” from Russia, which won; Hungary’s “The Boys of Paul Street,” “The Girl With the Pistol” from Italy,” and the French comedy, “Stolen Kisses,” by Francois Truffaut.

In the previous year, 1967, the Best Foreign-Language Film Oscar went to a Czech feature, Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains.