Milos Forman ("The People Vs. Larry Flynt")'s 1967 Czech comedy of errors deals with the Firemen's ball at a local town that goes completely and totally awry. While it will be not be recognized as the director's most substancial picture, the 73-minute comedy is, in my opinion, one of his most entertaining; a little film that packs social commentary, comedy, fun performances and good writing all in a little package. What's stunning is that apparently none of these actors are actually professionals, yet they throw themselves into their roles with such priceless abandon that I'd have thought they'd have a list of credits a mile long.
The premise of the film is simple, but it's impressive how much choreographed chaos that Forman is able to wring out of it. The organizers seem to have the best of intentions, but it's not long before things start going wrong. Decorations fall from the ceiling (leaving one of their own about to fall from the ceiling), the prizes that were supposed to be awarded go missing (turning each other into suspects) and a beauty pageant goes South when the contestants all hide in the ladies' room. Although the film is a rather light comedy on the surface, the government of the time in the country didn't take too lightly to the satire and the film was originally banned in its home country. Foreman moved to America soon after.
While Forman has achieved success with more serious themes in films like "Amadeus", "People Vs. Larry Flynt" and others, it would be enjoyable to see the director return to this style of comedy, somewhat similar to that of Jaques Tati ("Mon Oncle", "M. Hulot's Holiday"). The film is very funny, but there's almost an underlying sadness as the film comes to a close, as you'd like to see these characters get things together, but things seem set against them. With "Firemen's Ball", Milos Forman made a very funny satire whose actors do such a fine job in their roles that I'm still in disbelief that none of them have ever acted before.
VIDEO: Criterion presents "Firemen's Ball" in the film's original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio. The quality of the new digital transfer, taken from a 35mm interpositive, is pretty impressive, as the picture hardly looks its age. There is an additional featurette included on this disc that actually shows the film's cinematographer going through the film frame-by-frame in Prague and supervising the transfer process. The featurette proved to be interesting viewing before actually inspecting the film itself.
As for the film itself, sharpness and detail are actually fairly impressive. There's a pleasant, if not remarkable, amount of depth to the image, as well. Print flaws seemed minor for a film that's now about 34-years-old; I spotted some minor marks and a speck or two, as well as one instance of a thin line from top-to-bottom at 11 minutes in, but overall, the slight (considering the film's age) wear didn't bother me. Grain is visible, but in very slight - almost trace - amounts. Colors appeared accurate, fairly vivid and natural. This is a superb effort, especially considering the film's age.
SOUND: The Czech mono soundtrack is essentially what one would expect from a film of this age, if maybe a little bit better than expectations. The film is a mixture of dialogue and music; both sound crisp, if a tiny bit rough at times. Still, no hiss or distortion was heard.
MENUS: Criterion has included a very nicely done animated main menu that has clips from the film playing behind the audio.
EXTRAS: The main extra included on this disc is a fascinating interview with director Milos Forman. The director goes into further detail about the troubles that he got into when "Firemen's Ball" was initially about to be released, as well as the differences between his working then and now, in America. The interview is rather brief (about 12 minutes or so), but very interesting. Again, there is also a short featurette about the transfer process.
Final Thoughts: "Firemen's Ball" is a remarkably well-acted piece that I quite liked; it's also presented very well by Criterion's new transfer. While I would have appreciated hearing more from Forman, the supplements are satisfactory. Recommended.