Closely Observed Trains

Closely Observed Trains

***

Reviewed by: Andrea Mullaney

Jirí Menzel's New Wave classic, from Bohumil Hrabal's novel, was made around the same time as Billy Liar, Alfie and The Knack, with which it shares a certain Sixties naiveté and charm. But Czechoslovakia in the Sixties was hardly swinging. As in the later Velvet Revolution, what was fashion and culture in the West took on a much deeper meaning in a country struggling under dictatorship.

It begins as a seemingly slight sex comedy, as a young railway worker wonders when/if he will lose his virginity, ideally to the pretty train conductor he yearns for. Everything he looks at -steam train whistles, cooking, horses - makes him think of sex, till his frustration leads him to consider suicide.

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But there is more going on. The Second World War, for one. And Milos's station is a thoroughfare for the Nazi war effort, as well as a crucial junction for the local Resistance movement.

The film has certainly dated in its unabashed sexism, but its message of smaller personal concerns being swamped by greater political ones is still touching. It's no wonder Ken Loach regards this as a favourite film.

Closely Observed Trains won the Best Foreign Film Oscar and sparked a brief craze for Czech filmmaking in the West. Only two years later, the Soviet invasion of the country put a stop to all that, leaving Menzel unable to fully follow it up.

The film remains a memorial to a time when the struggle for self-expression was more than just an indulgent fad.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2004
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A young Czech railway worker thinks of nothing but sex during the Nazi occupation.
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Director: Jirí Menzel

Writer: Jirí Menzel, Bohumil Hrabal, based on the novel by Bohumil Hrabal

Starring: Václav Neckár, Jitka Bendová, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodsky´, Vladimír Valenta, Libuse Havelkova, Alois Vachek, Ferdinand Kruta

Year: 1966

Runtime: 92 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Czechoslovakia

Festivals:

Karlovy 2014

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