Czech New Wave stalwart Milos Forman’s last film before his exile to the United States is a masterpiece in the tradition of absurdist humor. In a small Czechoslovak town, the fire department is holding a ball in order to raise money for their former chairman. Yet the rigid hierarchical culture and hollow spirit of solidarity have turned the ball into an unstoppable farce. From a rigged beauty pageant with unwilling participants to a raffle whose prizes are stolen, the party builds up to a climatic meltdown of the ages. Banned in Czechoslovakia for years, this black comedy is widely seen as the perfect satire of the communist state’s bureaucratic mindset. The film exposes how people can only respond to the authority’s absurd mandates with deceit and hypocrisy. Although Forman’s boisterous comedy is a merciless takedown of communist culture, the filmmaker has also shown a soft spot for the insignificant proletariat beneath his scorn for human greed.
Miloš Forman was born in 1932 in Cáslav, Czechoslovakia. He lost his parents under the Nazi occupation. In 1956, he graduated from Prague Film School (FAMU) and worked as a writer and assistant director thereafter. His first feature film, Black Peter (1963), was acknowledged as one of the pioneering works of the Czech New Wave and awarded the Golden Sail (Vela d’oro) at the Locarno International Film Festival. Subsequently, Loves of a Blonde (1965), and The Firemen's Ball (1967) continued to receive international recognitions, as both were nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards, albeit the latter was permanently banned in Czechoslovakia. In the face of the imminent invasion of Czechoslovakia by the Soviets in 1968, he fled to America. There he enjoyed an eminent career, twice winning the title of Best Director at the Academy Awards with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) and Amadeus (1984). In 2018, he passed away in Connecticut, USA, at the age of 86.