Jirí Menzel’s first solo feature film, the World War II-set drama Closely Watched Trains / Ostre sledované vlaky (1966) was the 1967 Oscar winner in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Those living in the Los Angeles area will have the chance to watch a new print of Menzel’s classic on the big screen at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, September 23, 2013, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. To be hosted by Oscar-nominated writer-director Philip Kaufman, the Closely Watched Trains screening will feature a rare onstage discussion with Jirí Menzel himself.
A mix of light comedy and somber drama, Closely Watched Trains tells the story of Milos (Václav Neckár), a young railway worker whose routine life in a small Czech town is upended following the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. While on the train tracks, Milos finds love, adventure, and tragedy.
’Closely Watched Trains’ cast, awards
Closely Watched Trains is based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal, who also wrote the screenplay with Jirí Menzel. Václav Neckár is excellent as the youthful, inexperienced Milos, while the film’s supporting cast includes Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský, Vladimír Valenta, Alois Vachek, Ferdinand Kruta, Jitka Scoffin, and Jitka Zelenohorská.
Besides its Academy Award win, Closely Watched Trains was a Directors Guild of America nominee; the National Society of Film Critics’ third choice for Best Film and Best Screenplay; a Golden Globe nominee for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film (at the time there was also a category for English-language non-American films); and a BAFTA Award nominee for Best Film and Best Soundtrack (Jirí Pavlik).
Director-writer Philip Kaufman’s credits include Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978), with Donald Sutherland and Brooke Adams; The Right Stuff (1983), with Ed Harris, Dennis Quaid, and Sam Shepard; The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1988), with Daniel Day-Lewis, Lena Olin, and Juliette Binoche; Henry & June (1990), with Fred Ward, Maria de Medeiros, and Uma Thurman; and Quills (2000), with Geoffrey Rush, Michael Caine, Kate Winslet, and Joaquin Phoenix.
As found on the Academy’s website, Jirí Menzel "is a filmmaker, actor and stage director who has garnered worldwide acclaim for his bittersweet, philosophical comedies that owe much to the modern Czech literary tradition. Born in Prague in 1938, Menzel was trained in film at FAMU, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague, from 1958 to 1962."
Jirí Menzel has directed or co-directed nearly 30 movies. In addition to Closely Watched Trains, notable efforts include Capricious Summer (1968), Shortcuts (1981, no connection to the 1993 Robert Altman movie Short Cuts), the Oscar-nominated My Sweet Little Village (1985), the Berlin Film Festival co-winner Larks on a String (1990, Golden Bear shared with Costa-Gavras’ The Music Box), and the comedy-drama I Served the King of England (2006).
According to the IMDb, Jirí Menzel’s most recent movie is Skirt Chasers, a comedy to come out in the Czech Republic later this month.
Václav Neckár Closely Watched Trains photo: Courtesy of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.