12 November 2007 | aimless-46
A Beautiful Film
Note to American viewers: "Closely Watched Trains" (1966) is one of them "fereign films". It has subtitles and is in black and white (actually a strength as it is superb film stock). The setting is German-occupied Czechoslovakia during WWII. The setting and the use of the Czech resistance movement (to the German occupation) as a plot element may confuse Americans; many of who believe that Czechoslovakia was an Axis country or have never given the subject any thought. But just prior to the start of the war, Britain and France sold out Czechoslovakia. They backed out of their treaties and allowed Hitler to break up the country; establishing the German Protectorates of Bohemia and Moravia and annexing the Sudentenland (which had a significant German population).
Also useful in understanding the film was a revisionist trend by European countries in the 1960's to rehabilitate their images; suppressing any record of cooperation/assistance to Germany while proclaiming their resistance to the Nazi agenda. The film is a product of this trend which is why the resistance elements seem rather tenuously inserted into the story.
The film revolves around young Milos Hrma (Vaclav Neckar) who follows his father's example and goes to work for the railroad; becoming an apprentice dispatcher at a rural station. The impressionable Milos becomes fascinated with Hubicka, a veteran train dispatcher who devotes most of his energy to various on-the-job seductions. The second act involves Hubicka's on-going conflict with their superior, the pigeon-raising and feather covered stationmaster.
But "Watched Trains" is really Milos' coming of age story, complete with the requisite line: "is the first time you have been with a woman?" Milos' first time proves a disaster and leads to an unsuccessful suicide attempt.
Meanwhile, it turns out that Hubicka has more on his mind than girls. He is a member of the Czech resistance and is planning to destroy a German munitions train when it passes near the station. Unfortunately for Milos, Hubicka's recreational activities are reported to the authorities and he must attend an investigatory hearing inside the station, scheduled for the same time that the ammunition train is expected. For Milos, who has finally demonstrated his manhood in bed, the question is whether he can now demonstrate it my climbing the signal tower and dropping an explosive device onto the train as it passes beneath.
The film goes out with a bang and one is left to decide on the relative merits of the two methods young men have of proving their manhood.
I forgot to mention that the film is actually a comedy. And for that matter the resistance movement stuff is pretty much an irrelevant side story to the coming of age theme. And the female characters are all a little too good.
As tends to happen with good little movies, the plot has very little to do with what the movie is about, and nothing to do with the effect it had on me. And as tends to happen with them "fereign" films there are allegorical elements. The characters are seen from Milos' innocent point of view, a nontraditional hero who is neither heroic nor particularly intelligent. But he does fall in love and that reshapes his destiny.
All in all a very entertaining production. Especially good is Jitka Zelenohorská as a female telegraph operator, who becomes the object of Hubicka's playful attentions.
Then again, what do I know? I'm only a child.