Closely Watched Trains

Jiří Menzel, 1966



One of the most cherished Czechoslovak films of the 1960s. Ostře sledované vlaky (1966) was the recipient of the 1968 Oscar for Best Foreign Film. Similarly, this feature-film debut of director Jiří Menzel is also celebrated at home as a milestone of cinema, and as one of the key films of the New Wave. The legendary adaptation of an exuberant, yet delicate 1965 novella by Bohumil Hrabal tells the coming-of-age story of the young and inexperienced Miloš Hrma, serving as a station guard in central Bohemia at the close of the Second World War. Rather than taking an interest in the impending collapse of Nazi Germany, the timid young man focuses his attentions on women – as he seeks to lose his virginity and become a man. The lovely conductor Máša becomes the target of his efforts. Miloš’s colleagues, the station chief and dispatcher, may be opposed in spirit to the Nazi occupation, but given the tough penalties for resistance, choose to focus instead on day-to-day personal affairs. But among the duties of the railway staff is the requirement that they pay special attention to “closely watched trains” carrying armaments to the front. Ultimately, even Miloš ends up faced by a moment in which he has to partake in the “bigger” historical picture. Hrabal’s slender novella appealed to director Menzel for its unorthodox take on the war. As a film, Ostře sledované vlaky serves as a key 1960s step in de-mythologising the issue of the anti-Nazi resistance (hitherto a cornerstone of communist propaganda). Menzel’s simple story benefits considerably from the sensitive black and white cinematography of cameraman Jaromír Šofr. Twenty-three-year-old singer Václav Neckář delivers an exceptional performance as the charming and naive Miloš. Also offering an outstanding performance is Josef Somr, who plays Hubička, a train dispatcher who is the hedonistic lover of telegraphist Zdenička (in a famous scene Hubička imprints her thighs and buttocks with the office’s rubber stamps). The then 27-year-old director Menzel appears in the role of psychiatrist Brabec. The original credits neglected to mention that the role of the chicken thief was played by actor, playwright and dissident Pavel Landovský.
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About a film

film_production_year 1966
film_countries Czechoslovakia
film_genres tragicomedy, war
film_form feature
film_duration 88 min
film_director Jiří Menzel
film_cast Václav Neckář, Jitka Bendová, Vladimír Valenta, Libuše Havelková, Josef Somr
film_director_of_photography Jaromír Šofr
film_screenplay Bohumil Hrabal, Jiří Menzel
film_film_editor Jiřina Lukešová
film_production_designer Oldřich Bosák
film_music_composed_by Jiří Šust
film_sound_designer Jiří Pavlík