Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains)

The best-known film of the Czech New Wave, Jiří Menzel's wartime comedy remains a classic

Director: Jiří Menzel
Writers: Jiří Menzel and Bohumil Hrabal
Starring: Václav Neckář, Josef Somr, Jitka Bendová

The best-known film to come out of the Czech New Wave, this adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal's coming-of-age novel won an Oscar and cemented then-Czechoslovakia's status as an emerging cinema hotbed, which lasted only until the Warsaw Pact invasion of 1968 and attendant Communist crackdown. It remains a delight, a charming, bittersweet evocation of 1940s adolescent life, the small crises and triumphs of which seem to exist simultaneously far from and under the noses of the Nazi occupation.

Young Miloš (sweetly poker-faced Václav Neckář) follows his train-spotting father's footsteps into a job at a provincial railway station. Resolved to do as little actual work as possible, Miloš focuses on flirting with a comely conductress, avoiding the wrath of the stationmaster (who divides his time between lecturing on morality and tending to his beloved pigeons) and struggling to lose his virginity in the face of a crippling case of ejaculatio praecox. In matters both professional and personal he is tutored by platform guard, ladies man and part-time resistance fighter Hubička (Josef Somr), whose own amorous adventures climax with the rubber-stamping of the station telegraph operator's shapely hinder. Trains' sleepy depot forms a seemingly self-contained world of eccentricity, buffoonery and playful desire, which director Jiří Menzel (in his first solo feature) marshals into droll, airy comedy until the forces of history inevitably intrude. A lovely piece of work and a fine intro to both Czech film and Hrabal's writing.

Year: 1966
Runtime: 1 hour, 32 minutes

• Also known as Closely Observed Trains

Video on YouTube

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