Thursday, October 26, 2006

Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains)

Closely Watched Trains, Jiri Menzel 1966.

Splattered with the dark, yet lighhearted humor that seems to pervade everything Eastern European, Closely Watched Trains is one of those rare films that manages to simultaneously completely entertain the audience while carrying a level of subtext that is rich and pointed.

Milos Hrma comes from a family filled with great men. His great-grandfather got pelted in the head, his uncle managed to stop the invasion of Prague through the power of his hypnotism, and his father was a renowned train operator. This puts a fair amount of pressure on Milos to succeed in his new job as a train dispatcher.

Of course there is also pressure of other sorts growing on Milos. He happens to have no sexual experience, yet as he starts his new job it seems that wherever he turns he is confronted by sexuality. Much of the film centers around Milo, and his difficulties with woman, but it is done in a restrained and subtle (relatively, depending on how you look at it) way.

This story is set during World War II, so Czechoslovakia is currently occupied by German forces. Much of the subtext arises from this area of the film. The Germans are obviously simply symbols for the Soviet's who were occupying Czechoslovakia at the time. In a nice little twist, this is boldly given away by a poster of a twisted hand reaching down from above with a hammer and sickle near the wrist. This could plausibly be explained simply because the German's and the Soviet's didn't exactly get along as the war progressed.

Following along these lines would lead me to believe that Milo's impotence has as much to do with the occupation of the Germans/Soviets than any personal nervousness. It is not until Milo faces the SS that things begin to come together for him on the sexual front. In fact, the character most succesful with women is the character deeply involved with the partisans who are fighting against the occupation.

Its a hilarious film, so if you're looking for a classic comedy I'd give it a shot, but there is also a lot there, so if you're willing its one of those films that would be fun to delve into.


Vampire said...

Milos' problem was premature ejaculation, which could suggest an opinion that Czechoslovakia was going off too early in trying to prove itself a grown up state before it had thrown off its oppressors. That's just off the top of my head though, I'd have to see it again for anything substantive.

Grinth said...

Actually I think that was part of the joke...that he didn't actually have premature ejaculation. And how could we know really since he had never been with a woman.

Vampire said...

Good point. Although, that night with Masa could count. I figured he was just that premature.