XL Popcorn – Closely Watched Trains

List Item: Watch all of the “1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die”
Progress: 865/1009Title: Ostre sledované vlaky (Closely Watched Trains)
Director: Jiří Menzel
Year: 1966
Country: Czechoslovakia

It’s mid-November as of writing this and, because of Covid, we just put the decorations up because screw it. This year’s been weird enough, might as well enjoy some extended time with the twinkly lights and my gingerbread train set. The train set bringing me nicely on to the film that we ended up watching as we basked in the glow of blue and white lights.

When a film starts the way that Closely Watched Trains does, which is pretty similar to Amélie in how we learn the main character’s family history, you don’t expect there to be such deep tragedy that you feel in your soul. Then again, this is a Czech film set in the Second World War where you have Nazi sympathisers forcing the train staff to allow the safe passage of an ammunition train.

The fact that the more graphic of the main tragedies involves the main character cutting his wrists after prematurely ejaculating in an attempt to lose his virginity… well it tells you a lot about where the main focus of the film is. This isn’t to say that the film doesn’t manage to stay funny throughout, there is a brilliant B-plot involving an employment tribunal after two of the station staff use the official stamps for naughty purposes.

In the end, Closely Watched Trains is a film of incredible contrast that – even when you consider some of the slightly ridiculous sexual sub-plots, is a small and human story about what it was like to be in a small town when the Nazis come calling. There is collaboration, and there is resistance whilst there is also life and death. It’s one of those films that, whilst it didn’t make the biggest of impacts on me whilst watching, I know will benefit from a rewatch.

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