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A young man follows his father's footsteps and joins the railway company, where he learns the job and has his first affair. Set in the country, during the German occupation.Written by
Michael Crew <email@example.com>
People kept telling young, lazy inexperienced Miles "Work makes you grow up. War Makes you grow up. Sex makes you grow up." So young, lazy, inexperienced Miles went to work, went to war, went, etc...etc See more »
The blanket covering the stamped girl changes between shots. See more »
My name is Milos Hrma. People often laughed at my name. But ours was a famous family. Great Grandfather Lukas was a drummer and fought on the Charles Bridge in Prague. The students threw cobblestones at the soldiers and hit Grand Grandfather so hard that he was pensioned off on one gulden a day. He didn't do anything after that except buying a bottle of rum and a pack of tobacco every day.
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The explanation for the title of Jiri Menzel's film is that it was apparently derived from a military designation employed by the Germans who ran the railways in occupied Czechoslovakia, and would probably have indicated that the highest level of security was to be observed for the whole length of the railway system over which a train so designated had to pass.
'Closely Observed Trains' - its title in Britain is probably the better translation - sounds like the rambling memoir of some harmlessly eccentric train-buff: Gauge numbers, timetables, wheel configurations - that sort of thing! In fact, as we are finally shocked to realize, it describes precisely the munitions train which the Czech Resistance successfully target at the film's conclusion. The title is deeply ironic, therefore, since the seemingly innocent observance of ordinary life, that goes on in and around the country Station where the film is set, hides the seething secret of the meek and powerless, which is that, since their natural desire for life and happiness has been thwarted, they must encompass a more violent and final solution to their problems. With his death, the unhappy young trainee VÃ¡clav becomes, not a hero! but the authentic representative of his desparate fellow countrymen, whose virility has become a mere joke - a land whose history has been stopped by occupation, and which therefore has no posterity.
It is, one might say, a land 'without issue' as obituary notices would put it. This adds a curious twist to the bottom-stamping scene: It reveals, behind the charming buffoonery, a society where even relations between the sexes must have an official, bureaucratic imprimatur - where, indeed, the pillars of society are themselves so perverted as to take their only sexual pleasure in feasting their elderly eyes on a young woman's (as it were) officially sanctioned nether regions. The more one thinks about it - as the blast blows VÃ¡clav's hat back down the platform, and simultaneously forces us back into the film we have just seen through the shocking force of such an unexpected denoument - the more the German Occupation's stamps of approval must appear as a form of evirated official rape. Of the land, as of the girl, of course.
The explosion of the sabotaged munitions train wakes us from our comfortable and patronising sojourn in a Never-Never Land where charming and harmless buffoons exist merely for our own amusement, just as its repercussions signal the eventual destruction and extirpation from Czechoslovakia of just such patronising Nazi superiority. The film alerts us to the fact that the gentlest contempt is as cruel and destructive as the most brutal jackbooted hate: A collaborationist gesture is satirized, and the inky soul of bureaucracy is exposed.
The most decent and honest person in the film, apart from the young Conductress (who appears to be a Resistance agent), is VÃ¡clav, largely because of what is conventionally seen as the tragedy of his doomed love-life: He is untainted by the conforming adult world around him - a tormented innocent, like Christ, and similarly destined to be mankind's saviour through suffering.
Perhaps his cap, rolling down the Station platform before the blast, represents the crown of thorns that every Czech had to pick up, before the new Rome of Hitler's Germany could be defeated? Certainly, this is not a sunny film. It is a film that demonstrates the necessity for the performance of the sternest duty: To suffer, and to die if necessary, for one's country. And by reading us this lesson without any of the rhetorical and false heroics of the conventional action-movie, Jiri Menzel refuses to excuse his audience from enlisting for such hard service; by definition, a conquered people have no heroes, so that they have no alternative but to struggle in small ways, accumulating the stature of a Nation organically. This is, after all, the only possible repudiation of the Nazi ideology of the Ubermensch.
Truly, 'the meek shall inherit the earth.'
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