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Czech Republic 1966
Directed by
Jiri Menzel
92 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3 stars

Closely Observed Trains

That Jiri Menzel's first film (in the US it was released as Closely Watched Trains) won the 1967 Best Foreign Film Oscar is more a reflection of the sympathies of the time than its inherent merits. It's an pointedly poignant story of an adolescent male keen to lose his virginity which is interwoven with the kind of satire that was typical of Czech films of this “New Wave” period (compare, for instance Milos Forman’s 1968 film,The Fireman’s Ball), lampooning the pretensions of petty bureaucracy and small town social governance.

The film opens amusingly with the young man in question Milos played by Václav Neckár recounting his family history and how he came to be assuming the glorious role of train comptroller at a provincial railway station at the time of the Nazi (and which might also be read as referring to their Soviet successors) occupation of Czechoslovakia. Much of the film is given over to depicting the pettifogging ways of this small corner of the world but this satirical aspect is less engaging today than it would have been in its day whilst the political and dramatic content of the film is kept very much understated even if ultimately it costs Milos his life (Menzel wanted to have a happy ending but co-writer Bohumil Hrabal, on whose novel the screenplay was based, won the day).

If the ratio of satire to drama would be inverted today what is not in question is the effectiveness of Jaromír Sofr’s black and white photography which gives the film an almost time-in-a-bottle, silent era charm.

Available from: Umbrella Entertainment




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