Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Closely Watched Trains

(Ostře sledované vlaky, Czechoslovakia, 1967)

This is one of the first foreign movies I saw when I arrived at Michigan State from the redneck regions of Deepest Texas, and it’s a doozy.

Young Miloš Hrma begins his first day on the job at the sleepy little railroad station. He only wants to do as his great-grandfather, grandfather, and father have done before him: Get through life with the least possibly effort. World War II is going on, and his country is occupied by fucking Nazis. It’s a pretty boring job, but he doesn’t mind. His main goal in life is to get laid, just like all boys his age. There is a pretty train conductor who likes him, and gives him every chance but, far from being impotent, he ejaculates in his pants before they are quite started. He is so humiliated he tries to kill himself by slitting his wrists in the bathtub of the town brothel.

SPOILER WARNING: Up to that point it had been comical. The fat station manager fancies pigeons, and they crap all over him when he feeds them. The local fucking Czech Nazi uses a map to illustrate why “strategic” retreats in every sector of the war is actually a cunning plan to lure the Allies into a trap. You gotta laugh. There is a hilarious episode when the local lothario at the station presses rubber stamps all over a young girl’s body, including her lovely bare ass. This results in a lot of trouble, and the crime he is eventually charged with is debasing the German language! Even when a bomb is dropped on the town it doesn’t seem all that serious. But things take a turn for the worse when he becomes aware of the underground, who have a plan to blow up a fucking Nazi troop and weapons train. Miloš eagerly volunteers to drop a bomb down on the train as it passes under a signal tower. He finally gets laid as the older, attractive partisan woman takes him to her bosom the night before the bombing, just after she has delivered the bomb. And that’s a good thing … because the movie didn’t go where I expected. Seeing Hollywood movies in Texas hadn’t prepared me for a picture where the hero dies at the end. I was shocked. It’s shot in glorious black and white, with some truly great photography. See this one if you can.