Monday, September 22, 2008

Czech film frenzy!

I've gone on a Czech film bender since heading to Seattle as I've watched three of them: I Served the King of England, Closely Watched Trains and End of August at the Hotel Ozone. Shall we get into some Czech film discussion? I think so.

First up was the 2007 film I Served the King of England that was the official Oscar entry for the Czechs last year and was directed by one of the country's more prominent directors in Jiri Menzel. Set in WW2, I Served the King of England is a ribald, energetic, satirical comedy set around one man's misadventures with jobs, women and the ever shifting political climate around him. Sometimes subtle, other times overt in its message, Menzel has crafted a charmer that deftly balances the line between the comic and the somber.

Closely Watched Trains, another film directed by Jiri Menzel, is firmly rooted in the mid to late 1960s Czech New Wave. I'm a huge fan of Milos Forman's films from this era and Closely Watched Trains fits right in with the best of what those Czech filmmakers were creating. Unlike Forman, Menzel never left the country and made more films, some of which were banned by the government from being shown. I'd seen Closely Watched Trains on the shelf a number of times while at Scarecrow Video but had never watched it until now. Boy, was it worth the wait.

There's a similarity between Menzel's earlier mentioned I Served the King of England and Closely Watched Trains. Both are set in or near WW2 and both have a central male character who is lost in the obtuse haze of youth that leads to misunderstandings and confusions. Closely Watched Trains is the superior film (it won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1966) and set at a local provincial train station. A young man begins his career as a railwayman while also forming new bonds with workers and attempts to woo a cute brunette with awkward results. Closely Watched Trains is a wonderful, thoughtful and well made film that is highly recommended.

My third Czech film in my frenzy is the ultra bleak End of August at the Hotel Ozone from director Jan Schmidt in 1967. Set years into the future after a nuclear bomb event around the world, a group of hardened women (men have seemed to have died off for some reason) struggle to survive one day to the next. These women, possibly the last humans in civilization, are savages. The only thing that matters to them is the moment of "now" as they move across the landscape hunting for other survivors, items that they need or amusement. Cheery stuff? No, but it is a haunting and powerful film nonetheless.

I've often thought if there is one thing lacking on CineRobot it's the need for more Czech films discussed or reviewed. I can sleep easier tonight knowing I can check that one off my list.

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