Closely Watched Trains By Mike White. Why hasn’t this movie been remade in America? It’s got everything a typical teenage sex comedy from the eighties hasa poor schmuck in a dead end job whose one goal is just to get laid...
Why hasn’t this movie been remade in America? It’s got everything a typical teenage sex comedy from the eighties hasa poor schmuck in a dead end job whose one goal is just to get laid. It’s even got a gimmick: where Zapped had telekinesis and The Party Animal had the secret formula, this has Nazi occupation. Oh, those wacky Czechoslovakians!
Seriously, though. On the surface this story may just appear to be yet another man’s quest to lose his innocence but the subtext keeps this from becoming a cheesy "The Last Czechoslovakian Virgin." It was common practice to disguise a movie as one thing to make a statement about another. Certainly the movie is about sex and sexuality but it deals more with the feeling of impotence a country feels when it is being occupied by another than just the protagonist’s ability to maintain an erection. Czechoslovakia’s inability to control its destiny when it was under Nazi rule was the same when it was the Soviet Union pulling the strings of the puppet dictatorship. Of course, no criticism could be made of the powers-that-be under the State-funded film program, so director Jiri Menzel employed ye olde tactic of setting the film in another time period, "we’re not poking fun at you, comrades!"
Political allegory usually isn’t funny and neither is sexual frustration, but Closely Watched Trains with its disarmingly low-key tone is very humorous. Don’t think this movie doesn’t get pretty serious at times but with its light-heartedness, it’s the definition of bittersweet. You really feel for the sad-eyed protagonist, Milos (Vaclav Neckar), as he follows in the footsteps of his looser family in a semi-prestigious but dead-end job as a train dispatcher.
Now, I studied this film for a class I took so I don’t want to get into all the symbolism regarding Milos’ hat or the woman stroking a goose’s neck. This film can be enjoyed on any of the levels it operates, no matter how deep. A good amount of the movies I had to see for class I would never want to see again. I could barely tolerate one showing of The Hour of the Furnaces and would rather shoot myself than watch Death in Venice a second time. But, Closely Watched Trains falls far into that other category of movies I could watch over and over again. It’s definitely up there as one of my favorite Czechoslovakian films of all time!
This was Menzel’s first feature and, incredibly enough, it was actually recognized for being as good as it is. It won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1967it seems the Academy didn’t have their heads embedded so deeply in their asses back then. Closely Watched Trains is widely available and highly recommended.
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