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(aka "Horí, má panenko" or "The Firemen's Ball and Lottery")


directed by Milos Forman
Czechoslovakia/Italy 1967


A milestone of the Czech New Wave, Milos Forman’s first color film The Firemen’s Ball (Horí, má panenko) is both a dazzling comedy and a provocative political satire. A hilarious saga of good intentions confounded, the story chronicles a firemen’s ball where nothing goes right—from a beauty pageant whose reluctant participants embarrass the organizers to a lottery from which nearly all the prizes are pilfered. Presumed to be a commentary on the floundering Czech leadership, the film was “banned forever” in Czechoslovakia following the Russian invasion and prompted Forman’s move to America.


Milos Forman's "The Firemen's Ball" was banned "permanently and forever" by the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia in 1968, as Soviet troops marched in to suppress a popular uprising. It was said to be a veiled attack on the Soviet system and its bureaucracy, a charge Forman prudently denied at the time but now happily agrees with. Telling a seductively mild and humorous story about a retirement fete for an elderly fireman, the movie pokes fun at citizens' committees, the culture of thievery, and solutions that surrender to problems....

The movie takes place during about 24 hours, as the firemen prepare for their event, attend it, and survive it. They're planning a tribute to their former chief, although it may be coming too late: "We should have given it to him last year, when he was 85," one observes, "instead of now when he's about to die." The ancient fireman, diagnosed with cancer, will be presented with a handsome miniature fire ax in a velvet-lined box.

Some feel the old fireman represents the values and traditions of the pre-Soviet years. The film's climactic scene could easily be seen as a perfect symbol for the paradoxes of Soviet communism: During the ball, a local barn catches fire, and the firemen race to the scene. But their truck gets stuck in the snow, the barn is engulfed by flames when they get there, and when the farmer complains that he is cold, the firemen do what they can: They move his chair closer to the flames.

Excerpt of review from Roger Ebert located HERE


Theatrical Release: December 15th, 1967 (Czechoslovakia)

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DVD Review: The Criterion Collection (Spine # 145) - Region 0 - NTSC

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The Criterion Collection

Region 0 - NTSC

Runtime 1:13:45

1.33:1 Original Aspect Ratio
Average Bitrate: 6.20 mb/s
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

NOTE: The Vertical axis represents the bits transferred per second. The Horizontal is the time in minutes.


Audio Czech (Dolby Digital 1.0)
Subtitles English, None
Features Release Information:
Studio: The Criterion Collection

Aspect Ratio:
Fullscreen - 1.33:1

Edition Details:
• Video interview with director Milos Forman (14:03)
• A behind-the-scenes look at the transfer process (4:36)

DVD Release Date: February 12th, 2002
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Chapters 18

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Milos Foreman's comedy of errors, "The Firemen's Ball", is of course a well known allegory for the communist regime that he lived under. As a political farce it's first rate, telling the story of a bumbling and hidebound group of firemen whose good intentions give rise to a series of improbable and comically catastrophic events. I don't really have much to say about the film that hasn't already been said elsewhere and better. I suppose that all that there's left to say is that this is one damn fine film, and one that you'd be doing a great disservice to yourself if you pass up.

For the release, the film underwent a full restoration, with fairly impressive results. For a film that was made over forty years ago, it looks quite good. The image isn't as sharp as one would hope, but there isn't a tremendous loss of clarity. The grain is rich, but not to the point of constituting noise. Colors are perhaps slightly washed out, but are almost certainly true to the film's original look. There's very little in the way of damage that it's hardly worth mentioning. Overall, it's a fairly good looking release.

As per Criterion policy of the day, the disc comes with a competent, but uninspiring English language Dolby Digital 1.0 track. There really are no problems to speak of (dialogue is clear, no background noises), but just don't expect to be wowed by it. Optional English subtitles are also included.

Aside from a foldout essay, the disc comes with two supplements. First we get a short look at the restoration process with the film's original cinematographer, Miroslav Ondrícek. Second, there's a longer interview with Forman about the film, where he discusses his career and the trouble that "The Firemen's Ball" got him into with the authorities.

This is another fantastic release from Criterion. Highly recommended.

  - Brian Montgomery


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