My review of the 1966 comedy/political film Closely Observed Trains is over at Flickering Myth now.
Also republished below.
Growing up sure isn’t easy. When you add World War II and Nazi occupation into the mix, adolescent difficulties quantify rapidly…
That’s certainly the case in this award winning and well loved 1966 film from Jirí Menzel. A prominent example of the Czech new wave, Closely Observed Trains follows the exploits of young Miloš (Václav Neckár) as he tries to negotiate sexual desires with the realities of a war torn home.
What at first glance may seem like a light-hearted sex comedy, the film also includes an astute commentary on the processes of Czech partisan groups fighting back at Nazi occupation. Miloš becomes embroiled in this via his lecherous and rebellious work mentor Hubicka (Josef Somr). Acting as an advisor to various resistance groups seeking to upset the occupying Nazi forces, Hubicka lets Miloš in on a plot to blow up a German courier train.
What makes Closely Observed Trains stand out brightly in what could have otherwise been a somewhat grim expose of war activity are the comedic elements. There is a bawdy, earthy tone to the piece, which when viewed alongside Miloš problems in achieving sexual satisfaction provide a humanistic counterpoint to the perils of war and political upheaval. Menzel himself appears as the doctor Miloš asks for help with his delicate issue. The professional answer? Get some experience. Miloš certainly gets that in both a sexual and a political sense as the realities of life become ever more stark…
The winner of a best foreign language movie in 1966, the film contains a haunting existential nature about it – not something that could be said of many teen sex comedies it might be argued…
Blu-ray Features include:
- New 4K restoration by the Czech National Film Archive
- High Definition Blu-ray (1080p) and Standard Definition DVD presentations
- Original Czech soundtrack in uncompressed PCM mono audio
- Optional English subtitles
- Appreciation by Peter Hames, author of The Czechoslovak New Wave
- Archival interviews with director Jirí Menzel, cinematographer Jaromír Šofr and film historian Jan Lukeš
- Closely Observed Films: Michael Brooke explores the six-film collaboration between Menzel and novelist Bohumil Hrabal
- Reversible sleeve featuring two pieces of artwork from the original release
Review of the new new DVD volume of Beck is over on Flickering Myth now…
The contrast between the calm and studious internal world of celebrated Swedish detective Martin Beck and the drama of murderous crime is brought to the screen in fine style in these five feature-length episodes.
Comprising the last episode from season four (Buried Alive – a horror tinged tale that received a Swedish theatrical release in 2009) and four from the most recent series, this collection can either serve as a good introduction to the show or a reminder as to just why it has been so popular.
The reason why it has done so well is possibly down to its classic approach to the cop show format. It avoids gimmickry, instead concentrating on the twists of the stories and the conflicting personalities of the main players. The soberly calculating Beck (Peter Haber) and his rough-house colleague Gunvald Larsson (Mikael Persbrandt) perfectly sum up the good cop/bad cop routine, and it is their interplay and occasionally problematic relationship that is the centrepiece of the stories.
The haunted sadness behind Beck’s eyes tell of a character who has a tired understanding that the world is a dark and unforgiving place. Peter Haber brings a level of introspective hurt to the quietly sensitive Beck. On the basis of these stories, he is a fundamentally honest man. Larsson, a tough guy with an old-fashioned approach to everything from cultural politics to investigation techniques, takes care of the action sequences that break up the tension.
The episodes that bookend this release are the most effective and disturbing. Buried Alive and The Hospital Murders both take a horror influence that works well against the sombre backdrop of the pale hued Stockholm. Aside from the well constructed story-lines – which aren’t really whodunnits, more about how Beck will get to the truth – the show is really concerned about growing older on your own.
Beck does have friends and a politely flirtatious relationship with the hospital’s lead medic, but the most striking scenes are often the ones involving him and his daughter (Rebecka Hemse). Despite familial affection and love, the pair find it difficult to understand each other or develop much of a common bond. Scenes between Beck and his retired luxury drink loving neighbour (Ingvar Hirdwall) also highlight the sense of dislocation that the lead character seems to have for the outside world.
A classic detective show and a solid example of how the crime genre can explore a range of topics (organised crime, international terrorism, euthanasia), not least what it’s like to age in a world you feel you no longer understand.
Beck The Series – Volume 1 is out now on Arrow Films
Review of A Sicilian Dream over at Flickering Myth … cars whizzing about in the Sicilian sunshine… informative and reasonably entertaining even for someone with zero knowledge of motorsport or cars (me)…