It’s a shame that the Czech new wave movement was such a brief moment in cinematic history. Closely Observed Trains is from that European art cinema mold of the 50s and 60s. It’s risque, sexy, political and altogether quite funny.
It’s also one of the best coming of age stories in cinema. The tale of Milos the train signalman is a wonderfully compact and lean document of a young man trying to understand the transition between boy and man. His position as an apprentice signalman also offers a sort of line up of (all fairly flawed) male bosses and role models, creating a question about whether there is even a change in maturity or whether it’s just an imaginary construct.
The dialogue is sharp and witty. However, amongst the hilarity and the youthful energy, there is a darker, more sobering quality to Menzel’s film. Milos’ involvement in the fight against nazi Germany’s forces leaves a bitter taste in the mouth about human mortality and how impressionable both adult and child can be.