OK, so it doesn’t have what you’d call a happy ending, but in terms of Eastern European cinema, Jirí Menzel’s Oscar-winning Closely Watched Trains (1966) is unusually cheerful. It’s a simple, often humorous (in a dry way) story that is more about characters than plot. Taking place in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, it focuses on Milos (Václav Neckár), a young man from a line of crackpots who seem to specialize in finding ways around any sort of strenuous work. That was the reason his grandfather—recently deceased after trying to hypnotize the German army into not invading—became a stage hypnotist, and why his father has retired as an engine driver at the age of 48. Milos himself has landed a mostly do-nothing job as an apprentice train dispatcher in his sleepy little village—working under a pigeon-fancying boss and his sex-obsessed assistant. Milos himself is ready for romance—with his sights on train conductress Masa (Jitka Bendová)—but he’s baffled by the lechery all around him and when it comes to performing sex, he’s a disaster. So much of a disaster in fact, that he attempts suicide. A doctor (played by the director) explains things to him and … well, the rest is best left to the viewer. It’s a nice little film with a certain amount of fairly twisted—or at least kinky—humor and an ending that is shocking, but feels just right upon reflection.
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