Closely Watched Trains: How Close to Notice the History, Politics, and Culture in Film

                    There are many different films that are made by in a variety of counties, which show the politics and culture of that nation.  In class, we have watched many films from various places around the world that have different stories to tell.  In my opinion, the best film to notice how one can better learn about history, culture, and politics is the film Closely Watched Trains (Ostre sledované vlaky).  This film was directed by Jiri Menzel in 1966.

                     The film is about a young, Czechoslovakian boy who works as a train dispatcher in his nearby village during World War II.  The Nazis have an ammunition train that runs through the town, causing distress and concern amongst the town’s people.  To cope or deal with his surroundings, Milos (the young boy) (Václav Neckár), discovers himself during his adolescent years through sexuality and finding his place amongst his infamous family.  In the end, though, Milos learns who he is and uses self sacrifice to save the morale of his village and joins his past male heroes.  Due to the historical setting, the issue with the Nazis and everyday life of Milos’s small town, there are plenty of elements that someone could learn from.

                   The historical setting that one can learn is that of World War II, which is a part of every) country and culture in the world.  The Nazis Regime had taken over most of Europe and most of the other countries outside of Europe (such as the U.S. and Britain) had had devastating travesties due to the spread of Nazism (or called Communism at times).  When watching this film, the audience can feel the tension of the town’s people when the Nazis soldiers come into town. .

                     There is a great example of this when the Nazis first make their appearance in the film, where they for no reason at all, take Milos off with them in the munitions train.  They eventually let him off because they notice that Milos had been cutting himself and one can assume that they “feel” sorry for him.  This part of the film, though, just supports the paranoia fear that the movie was trying to display.  An audience member could feel the realness of what had happened long ago. .

                   Now, the political aspect of the film would have to be the Nazis presence in Czechoslovakia.  This is part of the historical setting, but the political advantage that the German Nazis had over countries like that, was great.  The political agenda that someone could learn from in this film would be that the Nazis’ party was (and is) evil, and they destroy the innocent that is in the world.  The innocent would be the small town and even the main character, Milos himself.  The evil would be, naturally, the Nazis army, and even the train that Milos blows up.  It can be seen as the innocent or good overcoming evil.  This would be the political agenda from the film.

                     Lastly, the cultural part of the film would have to be the everyday life in the small town.  Someone could learn from this because, one the film was directed by a native born Czechoslovakian, who had been a young boy too during World War II (he was born in 1938 during the Third Reich in Germany).  This means he had the first-hand account of how it would be like in a town during that time period.  Then, secondly, in the United States (assuming the audience originated there) at that time, the 1930-40’s was a prosperous time and many households did not live like the people in the Czechoslovakian village.  There were not trains full of explosives passing by with the enemy ready to kill one at any moment.

                     Now, some would say that learning from a film about important elements (or perceptions) in life (history, politics, and cultures) is silly.  With, the examples from Closely Watched Trains (Ostre sledované vlaky) that I have given, I would assume that there are films that show those perceptions correctly.  For one, the director, Jiri Menzel was a native Czechoslovakian, who was almost the exact age as Milos in the film, so the assumption can be made that the historical setting would be correct.  Secondly, the political setting would be most accurate due to the fact that the Nazis Empire conquered Poland, and Austria (which surround the Czechoslovakia).  Now, the cultural aspect is highly unique to this film.  If you were not a Central European, then there would not be any grounds for understanding.  The film does an excellent job at displaying true, accurate events.

                   Basically, if someone were to learn from a film, then watch a film that is similar to a historical documentary--not a film that is like Gone with the Wind , which does not show the true events (or even all of the events) of a historical time period or culture.  Just watch the films Closely Watched Trains (Ostre sledované vlaky) or Malcolm X (or just X) directed by Spike Lee, for an understanding of history, culture, or politics in another country.  These films show accurate perceptions of these elements.

Sarah Hurley Austin

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