Czech director Jiri Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains (Ostre sledovane vlaky) was the recipient of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967. Based on Bohumil Hrabal’s novel of the same name, it tells the end of innocence for a railroad worker who is not very bright and has not much of a career plan either. In the days of Nazi occupation for a Czech of course all such notions are not worth a straw.
Milos, the young apprentice railroader (Vaclav Neckar) comes from a line of failures. His grandfather, a hypnotist, was crushed to death while trying to hypnotize the German army into retreating, and his father retired at the age of 46 and sleeps on the sofa all day. Milos happily takes the trainman’s job, since all he will have to do is stand on the platform and kill time. Just the same he is keenly conscious of his failure in scoring with girls. In such chaotic times of a city under occupation for the young Milos things aren’t as bad as not losing his virginity.
This is a movie about innocence in such dismal times. Young Milos sees various sort of characters as they go about: for example there is a train dispatcher, who delights in rubber stamping his female conquests; and a sweet young conductress (Jitka Bendova) with whom Milos unsuccessfully tries to make out. Fearing he isn’t adequate as a man, he tries to commit suicide. In that department also he turns out to be a failure. Then a friendly doctor (played by Jiri Menzel, the director) suggests that the unhappy youth distract himself while making love (say, think of a soccer game) or find a more experienced woman. When the stationmaster refuses to volunteer his wife, young trainee Milos bravely seeks other candidates and finally succeeds with a resistance fighter named Victoria.
He at last breaks the jinx of failure through love. Relieved and happy to discover that he is indeed a man, the youth sets out to blow up a Nazi ammunition train and
succeeds. In the end he is a hero.
‘Ordered by the Czech Communist government to return his Oscar, Menzel refused, opting instead to make a “repentance” film which sang the praises of collectivism. This second film has long since been forgotten, while Closely Watched Trains remains on record as one of the biggest financial successes of the Eastern European Cinema’. (Quoted from Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide.)
* Vaclav Neckar – Milos, a railroad worker
* Jitka Bendova – Conductor Masa
* Vladimir Valenta – Station Master Max
* Libuse Havelkova – Max’s wife
* Josef Somr – Hubicka, a dispatcher
Alois Vachek – Novak; Jitka Zelenohorska – Zdenka; Vlastimil Brodský – Counselor Zednicek; Jirí Menzel – Dr. Brabec; Marie Jezkova; Kveta Fialova – Countess; Ferdinand Kruta – Max’s uncle Noneman; Nada Urbankova – Victoria Freie
Oldrich Bosak – Art Director; Olga Dimitrov – Costume Designer; Jirí Menzel – Director; Jirí Menzel – Screenwriter; Jaromir Sofr – Cinematographer; Jiri Sust – Composer (Music Score); Ruzena Bulickova – Costume Designer; Jiri Cvrcek – Set Designer; M.A. Gebert – Editor; Bohumil Hrabal – Screenwriter; Bohumil Hrabal – Book Author; Jirina Lukesova – Editor; Zdenek Oves – Producer
Europa, Europa; A Generation; Skrivánci na niti; Ivanovo Detstvo; Eroica; Black Peter; Tak Nachinalas Legenda; Dark Blue World; Do You Remember Dolly Bell?; Mon Oncle Antoine
* Run Time: 89 minutes
The film won several international awards:
* The 1967 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film
* The 1969 BAFTA Awards for Best Film and Best Soundtrack
* The Grand Prize at the 1966 Mannheim-Heidelberg International Filmfestival
* A nomination for the 1969 DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures
* A nomination for the 1968 Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film
( ack:wikipedia,answers.com,Allmovie Guide)