Closely Observed Trains 1966

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Extract from Closely Observed Trains (DOC)

Czech director Jiri Menzel’s Closely Observed Trains won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967. Based on Bohumil Hrabal’s novel, it tells the story of Milos, a young Czech guard at a tiny station during the Nazi occupation.

Milos desper­ately wants to lose his virginity and be like the older station guard, Hubicka, who is a lady’s man and –  after a few comic misad­ven­tures, he succeeds. Then Milos becomes involved in a plot to blow up a German ammuni­tion train.

The central char­acter is a shy young clerk with a love life he can’t manage but other­wise no other serious prob­lems. But the triumph of the film is to show us that our petty destinies are inex­tric­ably linked to bigger events outside our lives and that we can never escape them.

That he does this with such tender­ness, charm and guile, as well as produ­cing an extremely funny film, is a measure of the longevity of its appeal. It was once thought by its detractors that the film lacked real bite – indeed, Marx­ists called it bour­geois. But running through it is a desperate seri­ous­ness, which hardly precludes politics. “In my opinion,” said Menzel, “the true poetry of this movie, if it has any, lies not in the absurd situ­ations them­selves, but in their juxta­pos­i­tion with obscenity and tragedy.”

You could say that Menzel’s love of small detail and his tender­ness towards his char­ac­ters leaves in almost everything your average Holly­wood editor would cut. The result is what one can only describe as quietly uproarious.

by Derek Malcolm, The Guardian 1999

What to read next
An Article on “Closely Observed Trains” by Roger Hillman from Senses of Cinema

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