“Closely Watched Trains” – Chris Luedtke

I’ve heard that ignorance is bliss. The inability for one to notice their surroundings, especially when they’re right in front of their nose, arguably takes talent or an intense amount of naivety. However, not being subjected to the things that one should experience and take part in/notice has…questionable side effects. Jirí Menzel’s Closely Watched Trains plays off of this card miraculously with results that may just have to scrape the viewer from the screen.

Milo Hrma (Václav Neckár) has a family history of psychotic laziness. Both his grandfather and father took pride in their early retirements, and Milo has every intention of following in their footsteps by becoming a train dispatcher in his small village. As Milo spends time at the station, he becomes introduced to a world of sexual intrigue, erotica and self-discovery as he decides that his virginity must go. However, with Milo’s quest comes frustrations, inconveniences, and a wry world that’s caving in all around him.

My impression of the first ten minutes was that it was going to be a moral story about how having nothing to do sucks; I’m quite glad I was wrong. Having nothing to do does play a major role in the world surrounding the characters, eating away at them to the point of where they do find things to do without sitting around and complaining about how there is nothing to do. The plot of the story flows mostly through the eyes of Milo and his quest. The minute Milo enters the train station, everything becomes different, and we become a part of the character’s curiosity and boredom. His frustration and determined attitude drive us to the point of where we’re staring at the screen with our mouths gaping, screaming and hoping that he’ll succeed.

A part that impressed me quite a bit was that characters are left to massive interpretation. The character Milo is an oblivious character that is clearly new to the way the world works but is also slightly pathetic, yet at the same time slightly heroic. As war is breaking out, Milo is more focused on the war within himself and disregards the world around him without even so much as acknowledging it, claiming his life is difficult. Hubicka (Josef Somr) could be considered a slime-ball scum, but he’s also got his own code of honor and is probably way too in touch with the world and the way it works. Putting these two together gives us the opposite ends of the spectrum jumbled as one, and the train station becomes anything but boring.

The use of camera in this film was amazing. Shots are generally taken at a wide angle to give us a sense of how small the character is compared to the bigger picture, and yet all we can focus on is the character because that’s all we care about in the desert wasteland behind them. Shots such as the one where Milo chases after Masa’s (Jitka Bendová) train tell us that Milo is willing to go quite the distance before he’s willing to give up but not beyond what’s he’s comfortable with. Camera symbols are around every corner, and they work beautifully.

Closely Watched Trains is one of the few movies that could pull off excitement while someone sits at their desk reading a newspaper. The lingering mood of something more is ever present, and it seldom fails to deliver. The quest of Milo is epic in even the smallest scale. Those looking for a classic go out and rent/buy this one right now, because this is a train you won’t want to miss.

Rating: ★★★★

-Chris Luedtke

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