Closely Watched Trains

The prime exacerbation of the Kafka theme occurs when two SS men take the suicidally green apprentice signalman hostage in the cab of a locomotive shared with their senior Wehrmacht officer.

The Czech resistance works things out satisfactorily, however, and the boy dies a hero. L’amour est la mort.

One Occupation from the vantage point of another, a supreme work of the cinema marshaling its peerless cinematography and ineffable clowning to the vital ends of the art.


Larks on a String

The dictatorship of the proletariat.

Class enemies work on a scrap heap not too far from lady prisoners who have tried to leave the country.

If you have anything to say about it, you’re picked up and sent to the mines.

Rita Kempley (Washington Post) thought it was passÚ after twenty years under the ban, Janet Maslin (New York Times) reflected that the location “is a kind of paradise.”

A direct critique of the regime almost but not quite squeezing the life out of everything, from the author of Closely Watched Trains, set during the Korean War.

“For those who savour whimsy” (Time Out Film Guide).

The basis of the construction is Menzel’s Kafka technique, a plainclothesman on either side of a man on his hind legs, various discombobulated marriages, a view from the shaft.


Slavnosti Snĕženek

Ernie Kovacs opens the bill, evening ride along rural houses, each playing a television set or record player, maybe a radio, emitting adventures and romances.

The hunting of the wild boar is the substance of the film, shot right in the village classroom after a merry pursuit, claimed by two villages, served up to both at an inn, they fight drunkenly, a man dies on the road in a separate accident whilst bringing in the tripe soup he’s cooked at home.

“How fine this place would be,” says an apple-grower drowsing amongst his harvest, “without these wasps” (later, “if I weren’t here”).

Canby of the New York Times saw no especial significance in any of this “bucolic reverie”, nor did he recognize the village policeman from Jewison’s Fiddler on the Roof.

In English, The Snowdrop Festival.


My Sweet Little Village

The only thing worse than village life in the workers’ state is a disaffection that sends the village idiot to Prague on a pretext so a Prague bigwig can take over and make over his village house.

The compositional elements are recognizable from Closely Watched Trains. Menzel filming in color, beautifully.

The idiot’s house is a favorite trysting-place, he can so easily be induced to watch a whole Romanian film at the local kino, if given a free ticket.

A truck-driver’s wife and a village clerk of dairy livestock, a schoolteacher and an itinerant painter, share the bed at different times under a photograph of the idiot’s parents.

One lives below a graveyard, beer and braless girls are a consolation. In bourgeois societies, money is everything, television says.

In Prague there are fifty-seven movie theaters, not just one, the bigwig tells the idiot as an inducement to leave the house where he was born.

The village doctor rhapsodizes on the cooperative farming landscape and crashes into it with his car, regularly.

Another truck-driver has the idiot for his right-hand man, after five years it’s not working out, the idiot prefers Prague to a job with his driver’s cuckolded colleague, an irascible man.

The schoolteacher has a young admirer who tries to kill himself over her affair.

The doctor has that sage advice from Fellini, you don’t like the town, the sea or the mountains, go fuck yourself.

Rock ‘n roll headphones pin the idiot’s ears back, his grin is something else again. The brand-new flat in Prague has a flush toilet and all the latest amenities, though the shower’s not working yet. The idiot raises pigeons, there’s plenty in the Old Town Square, he’s told.

A combine harvester runs over a villager, impressing his form in the soil. The joke is that one might pour plaster in and have him perfectly, no-one enjoys this more than the villager.

It was the irascible colleague, drunk, at the wheel. The doctor covers for him with the authorities, to stop him beating his wife.

This is the fellow who has her time him holding his breath underwater, while he’s down her lover is up.

The latest thing is Stefan the crop-duster, who flies his own plane in, lands it along the fields, steps out cheerily and looks exactly like Lech Walesa.

These bits and pieces are all fitted together with a hundred more, for instance the agronomist who puts burnt matches back in the box until his pocket ignites.

English-speaking critics agree it’s not Closely Watched Trains, and that too is reckoned in among the film’s elements.

It all starts with a Prague weekender and his wife, exercise buffs, her ass distracts the idiot and the driver knocks down a gatepost, setting the two at odds. The weekender’s boss is the bigwig, the driver’s had enough of the idiot, “as soon as the harvest’s over...”

Czech rock ‘n roll drowns out a red cabbage recipe at the village inn, which is nearly the point of Stoppard’s play on the subject.