“Closely Watched Trains” is a film from the Czech New Wave movement. It was directed by Jiri Menzel and was based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabat. It was filmed in central Bohemia. The movie was critically acclaimed and won the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The Czech New Wave was an attempt by directors to make the pubic realize that they were complicit in the system of suppression and incompetence that ran communist Czechoslovakia. The movies were characterized by long, unscripted dialogues, dark and surreal humor, and amateur actors. The movement came to an end with the Soviet crackdown in 1968.
The movie is set in a train station in occupied Czechoslovakia during WWII. Milos (Vaclev Neckar) is starting his job as a station guard. He comes from a long line of slackers. His mentor is a ladies’ man named Hubicka (Josef Somr) who is the train dispatcher. The villain is a Czech collaborator named Zednicek. He shows up at the station to explain that the Czech armies are conducting a strategic retreat on all fronts to lure the Soviets into a trap as per Hitler’s plans. He spouts that the Axis are fighting for humanity! Milos is in love with Mesa, but he is a wimp and she is a tramp. When they hook up, he has an “accident” and is so humiliated he attempts suicide. Then some other things happen that are hard to explain or understand or find compelling. One of them involves Hubicka rubber-stamping the butt and thighs of a lusty girl who works at the station. The movie culminates in an attempt to sabotage an ammunition train.
The best I can say about the movie is it is a good primer for Cinema 101. There is some interesting cinematography, but it is pretty tame. There is a little deep focus, some off center, and some shots through doorways. It is not worth the time you will have to put in to watch this movie. Plus you have to read the subtitles! There are long stretches of boring and several WTF moments. Like why is the jerk Hubicka suddenly a heroic Resistance operative? I spent the first thirty minutes wondering when something was going to happen. There is some lame Czech humor. There is amateur acting by amateurs. Neckar was a pop star who was recommended to the director. The acting is what you would expect from a silent movie and the music contributes to that vibe. One positive aspect that I can point out is that you get to see a Czech woman’s butt! Oo-la-la. How did the communists allow that?
Once again we have an artsy-fartsy foreign film that leaves me scratching my head and wondering if I just don’t get it. I imagine there may be some who read this review that shake their heads in condescension. I have seen a lot of foreign war movies since starting this blog four years ago and I have liked many of them. There are some truly great movies, but there also are some that are very overrated. This is one of them. I would have given it an F if it wasn’t for the cinematic flourishes and the lusty ladies. I also have to give kudos to the producers for making a movie that was daring for its time. The movie still sucks.