At a village railway station in occupied Czechoslovakia, a bumbling dispatcher's apprentice longs to liberate himself from his virginity. Oblivious to the war and the resistance that surrounds him, this young man embarks on a journey of sexual awakening and self-discovery, encountering a universe of frustration, eroticism, and adventure within his sleepy backwater depot. Wry and tender, Academy Award®-winning Closely Watched Trains
is a masterpiece of human observation and one of the best-loved films of the Czech New Wave.
Jiri Menzel's funny, tragic 1966 film, set during the years of Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia, may be admired today more out of nostalgia than anything, but in fact it holds up very well as a wry satire from the years of the Czech New Wave. Vaclav Neckar stars as an unambitious youth whose chief preoccupation is a wish for sex, but who secondarily sees the draw of joining the organized Resistance movement. The latter, however, would require energy and focus, and Neckar's character--who does as little work as possible as an apprentice railway platform guard--prefers the inertia of his small-town depot. Spending his time observing the philandering of an older guard, keeping clear of his wild-eyed boss, and flirting with the female conductor of a passing train, the young hero has his priorities in order but must deal with an increasing responsibility to a larger rebellion. The film has a nice mix of rural lethargy, surreal hints, and comic knowingness about the landscape of teenage ambivalence. Finally, there is something else: the shock of a confrontation between dreams and real-world obligation, particularly in a world gone mad through no fault of one's own. --Tom Keogh
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