A retirement is cause for celebration. You have worked so many years and for thousands of hours. Retirement is the goal, but should it be? For those within The Firemen’s Ball, it must be. Packing your life into a banquet hall for a night of celebration to be replaced by the next prospective chief the next day, it is a bleak existence masquerading as a hopeful night of respect and awe. A time where the elderly generation can rattle the cage a bit and can cling to their prospective future, which is surely closer to its end than its beginning. Still, none of that is on the mind of the older men who stagger around the halls of this Miloš Forman piece, clawing their way through their golden years looking for that spark of youth once more.
Comedy is subjective, granted, and there is much subjectivity to be found within The Firemen’s Ball. It relies on characters who are not exactly prevalent or interesting but are often seen arguing or griping with the many shortcomings of their own lives. It has flutters with humour and titillating bouts of irony, but never transpires to anything more than light laughs and the odd bit of well-crafted cinematography. There is much solace to be taken in the moments of surprisingly bleak finality. An elderly gentleman that has lost his home to a fire many partying firemen were too busy to put out, wishing to abscond with what should be money, but it, in fact, raffle tickets. They are tickets for a raffle with half its prizes stolen.
What Forman lacks here though is a reason for it. He has the set-up and it is too soon for the punchline to come into effect. Recurring gags are the finest he has to offer, with the raffle theft coming to a sudden burst and finale in the waning moments of the film. The impact it has on those attending the party is minimal, but to us, the audience and those that organised it, the flurry of emotions becomes quite clear. On the other hand, the introduction offers a wholly comedic approach, and even with a message underlining the response three older firemen have to put out a fire or to save the young life holding up the retirement party banner, they are found to opt for their day job’s title than the safety of the generation set to replace them. There is good commentary found within, but it is fleeting and not focused enough to bring about anything objectively marvellous.
Relatively accessible, but not all that hilarious, The Firemen’s Ball will serve well for those wishing to complete Forman’s exceptional body of work. It is manic and understated; the hilarity comes from what sounds exceptional on paper. Bumbling firemen who are not entirely alert or switched on gather for a night of festivities. Hilarity most indefinitely follows them wherever they go, but it is a tad shameful that for a film stretching barely over an hour, there are such few laughs. Those moments that do inspire a sense of warmth and comedy are well rounded, effective and offer the fear these men have of retiring themselves. They cling to the charm they think they have, applying the same bold charisma they had within themselves when their heads were thick with hair.