Film / Closely Watched Trains

Closely Watched Trains (in Czech Ostře sledované vlaky), is a 1966 Czech film by Jiří Menzel, based on a short novel of the same name by famous Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal. It has won several international awards, including an Oscar for Best Foreign Film in 1967. It merges a typical Coming-of-Age Story with large amounts of humor and a somewhat uncommon war story.

The setting is the latter stages of World War II, as the Allies are closing in on Germany from the west and the Soviets from the east, but Czechoslovakia remains under Nazi occupation. Milos Hrma is a young Czech with one big ambition in life: To become a train dispatcher so that he can lead a leisurely lifestyle with little work. So he starts working at the local train station, where he meets train dispatcher Hubicka, who divides his time between lazing around and hitting on the telegraphist, and the station master, who seems more interested in his geese and in condemning Hubička's exploits than the train service. Meanwhile, Milos' girlfriend Masa wishes to take their relationship further. Finally, the occupation forces pressure the people at the station to keep a close eye on all passing trains to prevent partisans taking out supply trains.

Sadly for Milos and Masa, they seem to be unable to consumate their relationship at first, and when they actually get the chance to spend a night together, Milos fires off prematurely. Depressed, he considers himself not to be a real man and tries to commit suicide, but is brought to hospital before he bleeds to death. There, a certain Dr. Brabec explains to him that his "performance problems" are fairly common at his age, giving him some hints on avoiding this and proposing he seek the aid of a mature woman to overcome his anxiety.

Concurrently, Hubička and the telegraphist carry their affair further, which leads to an official investigation. When Milos returns to the station, asking all of his colleagues about whether they might be able to aid in his search for an experienced woman, things become even more complicated: The people from the station get involved in a plot to bomb an ammunition train that will pass through their station. A major stage of this plot is the arrival of artiste and guerilla figher Viktoria Freie, who delivers the bomb to be used in the plot. She stays at the station overnight, helping Milos lose his virginity. The next day, all things come together: The railroad officals arrive for the final hearing of the case about Hubička and the telegrapher's affair. When Milos steals away from the hearing, the bomb in hand, he meets Masa and tells her that he has to do something and will be right back. He successfully drops the bomb on the train, but is shot by a guard on the train. Meanwhile, the hearing has finished, and when the officials leave the station, they arrive just in time to see the ammunition train exploding some way off.

Closely Watched Tropes:

  • Bath Suicide: Attempted by poor Milos, but he is interrupted before he bleeds out.
  • Benevolent Boss: The station master, even with his Grumpy Old Man antics.
  • The Casanova: Hubička is remarkably successful with women. This draws the ire of his boss.
  • Les Collaborateurs: Councilor Zednicek, the administrator in charge of the railway, is a Nazi collaborator. The workers at the train station are not impressed when he lamely explains away the constant German retreats on both fronts as tactical maneuvers.
  • Coming-of-Age Story: For Milos. Implies Character Development. Towards the end he says that he's cut the cord with his past.
  • Creator Cameo: Jiří Menzel plays the doctor who tells Milos to Think Unsexy Thoughts to combat his premature ejaculation problem.
  • The Film of the Book: Fared very well, due to the fact that the author of the original novel cooperated on the screenplay, to point that original short novel is virtually unknown outside its country of origin. The only major change was cutting part of the ending, which in the novel was more violent.
  • Gratuitous Latin: Milos keeps referring to his problem as Ejaculatio praecox.
  • Hospital Hottie: A train carrying nurses is stranded in the station when no engine is available. The nurses draw everyone's attention. At one point poor Milos enters the train to find a full-scale orgy underway.
  • Hypocritical Humour: Every so often. The station master flirting with the telegraphist when he called Hubička amoral for doing so is an example. Also, the stories one of the trains drivers and the station master tell each other.
  • Interrupted Suicide: Milos attempts suicide after the embarrassing night with Masa. A worker discovers him by accident, and he is taken to hospital.
  • Irony: A rare example of Socratic irony when Councilor Zednicek, the Nazi collaborator, comes to the train station. He gives them a lot of lame excuses about how the unending retreats of the Germans are tactical withdrawals to set up counterattacks, and how the workers at the station have to closely watch the trains, but the workers just ask "why?" a lot until an irritated Zednicek says it's what the Fuhrer wants.
  • Jizzed in My Pants: This ruins Milos's night with Masa.
  • Kavorka Man: Hubicka is middle-aged, balding, and bespectacled, and has amazing success with women.
  • Lost in Translation: The station master's laments and swear words are mostly untranslateable, making him seem less ridiculous character.
  • Married to the Job: Milos, even if it's downplayed.
  • Mood Whiplash: Sometimes it's a naughty sex comedy, sometimes it's a tense thriller (notably the ending with the bombing of the train).
  • Mrs. Robinson: Played with. Milos is looking for one, but is unsuccessful until Viktoria turns up.
  • Naïve Newcomer: The film starts with Milos getting ready for his first day at the station.
  • Official Couple: Milos and Masa.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Milos and Viktoria's night together, the night before the planned sabotage of the ammunition train.
  • La Résistance: The partisans, although we don't see much of them. Hubicka works with them, and would have dropped the bomb on the train, if the railway bureaucrats had not arrived at precisely the wrong moment to conduct a hearing about his sex with the telegraphist.
  • Running Gag: Damage done to the couch in the station office by railroad workers having sex on it.
  • Sex as Rite-of-Passage: It's certainly important for Milos.
  • Sexy Secretary: The telegraphist. Her tryst with Hubicka involves a lingering shot of her naked bottom.
  • Think Unsexy Thoughts: What Dr. Brabec proposes Milos to deal with his premature ejaculation problems.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: It plays in occupied Czechoslovakia, so this is a given. They are mostly unseen, except for SS men on a couple of trains that pass through the station.
  • Train-Station Goodbye: Milos and Masa—an unusual example in that she's actually a worker on the railway, and she's definitely coming back.
  • Who's Watching the Store?: Addressed. Milos takes Hubička's place while he indulges in his affair with the telegrapher.