When shy teenager Miloš (Neckár) gets his first job, as a railway dispatcher in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, work is the least of the challenges. He is bullied by the station master and pressured by an older colleague, who definitely has ‘the knack’, to lose his virginity. Miloš’ personal troubles play out against a backdrop of tyranny, exemplified by the over-officious, optimistically Nazi regional superintendent, which pushes him to a feat or resistance he would never have dared before.
This is one of the best-loved of all Czech films and it is easy to see why, with its easygoing if bittersweet story, satire of officious bureaucrats and empathetic account of teenage problems.
Standout sequences include several that conjure up the warm tedium of working at train stations; a bathtub scene which plays off the intense and serious against the mundane to great effect; and a gently erotic scene in which Miloš’ ‘successful’ colleague seduces a young woman using a rubber stamp.
But there’s something about the transition from the throwaway details of Miloš’ life to the final heroic tragedy that seems dramatically unnecessary. Maybe that’s the point: we are all dead men on leave, but it strikes an abrupt note here after all those loving details.
Special features include:
- New 4K restoration by the Czech National Film Archive
- Appreciation by Peter Hames, author of The Czechoslovak New Wave
- Archival interviews with director Jirí Menzel, cinematographer Jaromír Šofr and film historian Jan Lukeš
- Closely Observed Films: Michael Brooke explores the six-film collaboration between Menzel and novelist Bohumil Hrabal
Review by Colin Dibben
Closely Observed Trains is out now on Blu-ray and DVD.