Closely Watched Trains (1966) – movie review

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Closely Watched Trains is one of the more underrated Czechoslovakian war-comedies of 1966. Because there are just so many…

Closely Watched Trains is a black comedy film about Miloš, starting to follow in the footsteps of his father, recently employed train station guard. Whilst working at the train station in the middle of WW2, Miloš has his first sexual experience. After this experience goes embarrassingly wrong, Miloš’s life changes and he starts to go through a series of emotional phases.

Before watching this movie, from general assumption and various story synopsi, I thought I was going to be a watching an unnecessarily artsy film that other critics would shower with acclaim for reasons rhyming with “Florren”. But what I saw was a surprisingly enjoyable black comedy with some very respectable themes in it.

Making a film set in a war-torn country during the largest war of the 21st century where the main character is going through one of the toughest stages of life and somehow making that film funny is quite an accomplishment. However don’t mistake this admiration for a comedy recommendation. This film is not a full comedy.

This film is one of the leading films in the “Czechoslovak New Wave”, a wave that is described (by Wikipedia) as a way of getting films “to make the Czech people collectively aware that they were participants in a system of oppression and incompetence which had brutalized them all”. So yeah. Not a full comedy. But surprisingly still able to make me laugh at certain points.

Jirí Menzel somehow had the disciplines to write and direct a story of this subtle magnitude and write it well. A story set in such a brutal time and environment yet a story that manages to put a smile on your face with its youthful aroma permeating a tale of hope and… sexual exploration? Okay then.

Václav Neckár is wonderfully confused and excited as the aforementioned Miloš. He plays a young man with a big heart and a scattered mind with very subtle and yet still brilliant facial expressions.

There is some interesting photography on display in Closely Watched Trains. Every shot is either part of a quirky shot/reverse shot scheme or a beautiful photo-that-looks-like-a-painting shot of the train station.

Closely Watched Trains (much more commonly known as Ostre sledované vlaky) is a light-hearted Czechoslovakian war-comedy which explores youth and terror with a great leading performance and some interesting cinematography. That has got to be the most unique one-sentence review I’ve ever written.

What did you think of Closely Watched Trains? Leave your comment on the side and don’t forget to follow my Instagram page for movie posters.

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