b. February 23, 1938, Prague, Czechoslovakia
d. September 5, 2020, Prague, Czech Republic

Jiří Menzel was one of the defining voices of the Czechoslovak New Wave, which erupted during a period of de-Stalinisation and increased artistic freedom in Czechoslovakia in the 1960s, only to be crushed with dramatic force by the end of the decade.

The Czechoslovak New Wave is regarded as a particularly fertile and influential period in film history when a group of young filmmakers “carried out an aesthetic-philosophical revolution in the Czech socialist cinema.”1 Its influence on film and filmmaking, even within Czechoslovakia alone, was far-reaching, as “film-makers of all generations were finally, for the first time, finding it possible to make films the way they wanted, the way they felt they should be made, and to arrive at some measure of self-realization.”2

Menzel’s father, Josef, was a journalist and writer, who published children’s books under the pen name ‘Jan Vik’ during WWII, and Menzel was born only seven months before the country was essentially handed to Nazi Germany through the Munich Pact. The war became a central element to two of his best-known films – Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains/Closely Watched Trains, 1966) and Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England, 2006) – while an all-too-realistic depiction of life under Stalinism – Skřivánci na niti (Larks on a String/Skylarks on a String, 1969) – led to the film being banned for decades.

However, the most dominant theme throughout most of Menzel’s films is sex, a subject which “has always been the most dangerous enemy of puritanical political revolutions.”3 Menzel was one Czech director who, like Miloš Forman, managed to attain success not only domestically but also abroad, helping to shine a light on a new wave of filmmakers. While much of his later output never really matched the cinematic heights of his earlier films, Menzel remained a director of great influence throughout his life.

In September 2020, Menzel passed away, following brain surgery in 2017 and serious health issues thereafter. This piece will focus in depth on seven of Menzel’s films, shot between 1963 and 2006.

Pearls of the Deep

A graduate of the FAMU Film and Television school in Prague (Filmová a televizní fakulta Akademie múzických umění v Praze), one of Menzel’s first films was in 1965 as part of an anthology with fellow FAMU graduates – Jan Němec, Evald Schorm, Věra Chytilová, and Jaromil Jireš – filmmakers front and centre of the emerging Czechoslovak New Wave. The anthology, titled Perličky na dně (Pearls of the Deep, 1965), includes five segments, each based on short stories released in 1963 by the beloved Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal; two others, directed by Ivan Passer (Fádní odpoledne [A Boring Afternoon]) and Juraj Herz (Sběrné surovosti [The Junk Shop]), were released separately4. The filmmakers were inspired to adapt Hrabal’s stories as they viewed him as “a surprisingly energetic man on society’s fringe, someone who defies conventions.”5

Pearls of the Deep would be the first of six Menzel films based on Hrabal’s works, before Hrabal’s untimely (but very Hrabalesque) death in 1997, when he fell (or possibly jumped) from the fifth floor of a hospital window whilst trying to feed pigeons. Menzel’s contribution is titled Smrt pana Baltazara (The Death of Mr Balthazar), a humorous examination of a couple of rev heads as they make their way to and then observe a motorcycle race. Hrabal is noted for his love of authentic speech, of the banal discussions of everyday people going about their lives, and this was his second outing as a screenwriter. The story is based on a real event, the death of a West German motorcycle rider who died during the Czechoslovak Grand Prix in the 1950s,6 and there is constant tension between the forces of life and death throughout the film.

After a short introduction, we see a husband and wife working on their car in a field; a motorcycle approaches in the distance, and just from its sound, the wife guesses at its make and cubic capacity (Harley Davidson, 500cc), corrected by the husband (it’s actually a 750cc), who also adds the year of manufacture (1944). Next to them, the senile uncle prattles on about the caretaker of the dead archbishop’s residence, who prefers to munch on apples rather than sweep up the fallen leaves. The Death of Mr Balthazar is our first filmic introduction to Uncle Pepin, a character based on Hrabal’s own step-uncle, “an extrovert oddball brimming with vitality, whose pathological loquacity had fascinated Hrabal ever since his childhood.”7 Hrabal included variations of the Uncle Pepin character in many of his works, often becoming a nostalgic symbol of lost times.

Perličky na dně (Pearls of the Deep, 1965)

Hrabal regularly had cameos in the film adaptations of his work; in The Death of Mr Balthazar, he’s the first character we see, closing up his actual house (24 Na Hrázi Street in Libeň, now the site of the “Hrabal Wall” mural) and placing a broken bust (which looks reminiscent of a death mask) on a pedestal. Later on, he appears at the race track, and each of the characters greets him with a smile, as if they already know him quite well. We also catch a glimpse of Menzel, in the guise of a cyclist who gets run off the road.

The husband states on the way to the track that “my life only starts when I hear the compressors roaring,” and we come to understand this pair of car fanatics just a little better. When we finally do see Mr Balthazar, he is already dead, killed in an accident on the motorcycle track and now lying lifeless in the grass; someone thoughtfully places a white sheet over his dearly departed motorcycle. A literally legless spectator comments on the terrible occurrence, this being one in a long line of racing accidents he has witnessed right in front of him – including his own – noting with a sense of regret but also schadenfreude that “I just always have to be there”; in fact, every character is drawn to catastrophe and carnage.

What The Death of Mr Balthazar lacks in narrative or character development is made up for in its use of wry, situational and absurd humour, and the often bittersweet, cynical take on life and death that permeates throughout so much of Czechoslovakian artistic output, particularly in films of the 1960s and later. In terms of style, it is classic Hrabal, using a “distinctive method that he called pabeni, a term that translates to something like “palavering”: roughly, the kind of meandering chatter that we engage in when we strike up conversations with strangers.”8

Closely Observed Trains

“Humanism” is a word one sees often when examining Menzel’s films, as his characters “convey an irrepressible humanity that remains somehow untouched by the pressures and vicissitudes of twentieth-century history.”9 Like Hrabal, Menzel often favoured flawed, naïve or unexceptional characters who endeavour to redress their own moral shortcomings or lot in life, or to react against the grip of powerful external forces such as the state or an invading army, all the while imbuing his films with characteristic wit and occasional slapstick.

Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains/Closely Watched Trains, 1966)

Nowhere is the above more on show than in Menzel’s lauded and loved classic, Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains/Closely Watched Trains, 1966), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film in 1967. The film is based on the literary work of the same name by Hrabal, released only a year beforehand, which itself is based on the 1949 “existentialist short story”, Kain (Cain).10 As with The Death of Mr Balthazar, Hrabal and Menzel penned the script together, which dramatically changed “the novel’s complicated time relations into a synoptical order.”11 Their task was essentially to unravel the novella, which is mainly told in flashbacks, and interpret the narrative in a more filmic way. Menzel once stated that: “Film is too imperfect to be capable of recording everything that takes place in our fantasy when we read Hrabal’s texts.”12 The undertaking was made somewhat easier as, “within the totality of Hrabal’s oeuvre, Closely Watched Trains is a quite isolated attempt at constructing a plot,”13 and the co-operation between Menzel and Hrabal was “marked by mutual trust”, with the two listening to each other as to how they imagined the film should be.14

The film continues mostly from the perspective of Miloš Hrma, who begins – like in the book – by telling us about his eccentric family, a long line of underachievers; while his main preoccupation is sex, he also aspires to “doing nothing except stand around on the platform with a signal disc while [the townspeople] spend their whole lives working themselves to the bone.” This was the very first film role for Václav Neckář, who by 1966 had had some theatre experience but was mainly known as a singer; his relative inexperience as an actor was actually an appealing attribute for the character of Miloš, as it helped “to capture the vacuous and dreamy innocence of a youth about to be initiated into the ways of the world.”15

To the majestic chords of a pipe organ, Miloš wanders into view in underwear and an oversized shirt and immediately breaks the fourth wall, eyeballing us awkwardly, more naked than his clothed stature would suggest. Menzel spends much time focusing on him dressing in his train employee uniform, as Miloš’s doting mother carefully places his cap on his head, as if this is his coronation. There is much understated humour in this entire sequence as the seeming over-importance of Miloš’s uniform is contrasted with his lack of enthusiasm to work and the insignificance of his role.

Miloš’s co-workers include: Hubička (Josef Somr), a train dispatcher who cares only for sex and loafing about; Novák (Alois Vachek), a station assistant who personifies the Uncle Pepin character with rambling monologues; Máša (Jitka Bendová), a conductor and Miloš’s cheerful girlfriend; Zdenička (Jitka Zelenohorská), a young telegraphist with sexual maturity beyond her years; and Max (Vladimír Valenta), the pigeon-loving station-master who espouses purity and Christian mores while envying (and trying to emulate) Hubička’s success with women. Also, if you pay attention at the start of the film, you’ll notice Hrabal with his uncle Josef (the model for Uncle Pepin), seated in a pretend aeroplane.

In these characters, Hrabal juxtaposes “the conformity of the older, compromised generation and the political and sexual rebelliousness of youth [which] is wholly typical of the transitional situation of the mid-1960s, both in reformist Czechoslovakia and in the West as a whole.”16 Throughout the film, there is tension between many archetypes – good and evil, religious and profane, virtuous and lascivious, young and old, brave and cowardly – particularly as it becomes clear that these trains watched closely are in fact German trains full of troops and munitions, which the resistance would like to destroy.

Depictions of the Nazis and their collaborators range from the comic to the menacing, and for most of the film, their main representative on screen is the uptight Zednicek (played with restrained brilliance by Vlastimil Brodský), who has removed the accents from his name in order to sound more German, and who takes for granted that not everyone wants the Nazis to win the war. His arrival by rail car to the sounds of Franz Liszt’s Les préludes (which was used on the radio to announce Nazi victories17 – after which he describes the “tactical retreats” of Hitler’s armies without a drop of self-awareness – is followed by his own retreat, as the rail car heads backwards along the track.

Zednicek is treated with contempt by all of Max’s underlings – particularly Hubička, who asks “why?” after every statement – indicating that the “political force is not a normal presence in the everyday, nor is it being treated with the respect that a dangerous oppressive force would be treated with.”18 Later, German soldiers pass through the station and ask for directions, but are distracted on their way by a carriage full of stranded nurses. Rather than depict them as barbarians, Menzel instead humanises them by showing them engaged in (what we assume to be) consensual relations with the nurses; one of the ladies bars Miloš from entering, so his virginity remains tightly clinging to him.

Miloš explains in the film that his surname means “the mound of Venus”, although his full name can be translated loosely as “the love of the mons pubis”, which is terribly apt given that “Miloš is more interested in losing his virginity than in the German occupation of his country.”19 In fact, several of the characters’ names relate in some way (either literally or ironically) to their personalities or motivations: “Hubička” means “kiss”; “Lánský” relates to the Czech word lán, “field”, hinting to Lánský’s rural interests through keeping pigeons; “Zednicek” (or “Zedníček” with accents attached) means “little bricklayer”, and he has essentially built a wall between him and other Czechs by embracing Nazism; and “Virginia Svata” (as written in the English-language translation of the book) can be interpreted humorously as “holy virgin”, while “Zdenička” (her name in the film and Czech-language original) is the feminine version of “Zdeněk” and related to the surname “Zedníček”, and she can be seen as his antithesis through her sexual openness.

Menzel’s treatment of sexuality places it as a main motivator for many of the characters – in different ways to the novel – whereby it becomes Miloš’s complete raison d’être; he constantly complains of “ejaculatio praecox” (premature ejaculation) to pretty much anyone after his failed attempt to lose his virginity to Máša, and it changes his life after he loses it. In contrast, Hubička, who seems to have no difficulty at all with women, finds other kinds of trouble after printing train stamps on Zdenička’s bare bottom; yet due to her having consented freely to the action, he is found not guilty of a crime – apart from desecrating the German language. In Miloš and Hubička we see the two extremes of failure and accomplishment, as “sexuality in Closely Watched Trains stands for both strength and freedom, and the lack of sexual expression represents weakness and backwardness”20; while the main role of the women is as sexual objects, “it is they who, in every instance, take the initiative and possess the power.”21 Miloš’s sexual failure ultimately leads him to attempt suicide in a hotel room, an act which ironically saves his life later in the company of SS officers, who had abducted him and then let him go when they notice the scars on his wrists, which are “mirrored in the scars of the Nazi soldier, who quickly discerns a kinship of transgressive humanity over and above national or political differences.”22

Menzel furnishes the film with a range of inventive and meaning-laden images (which require many more words than are available here to do them justice), the most well-known of which is that of Máša leaning down from a train to kiss an eagerly waiting Miloš; he is thwarted, of course, by Hubička, who blows his whistle, and Máša is whisked away before she and Miloš are able to connect. Later, as Hubička and Zdenička while away the unending hours in the station, backs to each other, the back and forth motion of their respective chairs echoes the games between man and woman. Hubička soon falls from his chair and Virginia laughs at him, and he attempts to re-establish his dominance by chasing her around the room, their playfulness resulting in her bare bottom being stained with ink.

In one of the most subversive scenes, a tradesman carries Miloš from his hotel room – right after the latter has attempted suicide – his limp body reminiscent of Christ in the arms of Mary in Michelangelo’s Pietà. They pass an anti-Soviet propaganda poster featuring an evil-looking, hammer and sickle-branded hand reaching down to seize Prague Castle, under the ominous words “If it grabs you, you’re dead!” In another, when Miloš goes to the stationmaster’s wife for advice on sex, she is stroking the neck of a goose in what can be interpreted as an overly sexual manner, which results in Miloš getting an erection and retreating from the room in disgrace. Miloš also explains his issues to a priest, who states that he’d be happy to help find a willing parishioner for him, telling her that it would be “her duty as a Christian”, playing against the usual stereotype of the chaste clergyman. Menzel appears as well, in the role of a doctor, advising Miloš that what he has experienced is normal, that he should find an older woman with whom to practise, and that in order to sustain his erection, he should think of football.

Despite Hubička interfering in Miloš’s love life at two points (Miloš is also distracted from kissing Máša by Hubička ripping an antique couch during a tryst), he is then indirectly responsible for Miloš losing his virginity, after convincing Viktoria Freie (Nad’a Urbánková), a mysterious spy, to sleep with him. Our first glimpse of Viktoria is simply as a pair of white boots in the darkness, and in her we see the qualities of perseverance, cunning, sexual maturity, and above all, the Czechs triumphing against their enemies (Germans/communists); after Miloš loses his virginity, Les préludes plays, signalling his victory against his virginity. We later see him on the platform, leaning against a pole and cleaning his ear with a finger – reminiscent of Hubička after his own conquests – showing that a new, confident and fearless Miloš has been born.

Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains/Closely Watched Trains, 1966)

One of the main ways in which the film Closely Observed Trains differs from the novella is the ending, and in fact, there are three to discuss: the ending as written in the novel; the film ending as we know it; and a proposed ending that was never utilised. These differences help to highlight how Miloš, the active protagonist of the book – who also relays the story through his narration and thus places himself in the centre of the narrative – is more of a passive protagonist in the film, mainly relying on others to push him in a certain direction. In both works, Miloš loses his virginity at the hands of Viktoria Freie, who gives him and Hubička a bomb to throw into the German train as it passes through the station. Here is where book and film diverge:

Book: Miloš climbs up the signal tower and drops the bomb onto the train. He is spotted by an enemy soldier, fires at him, but is also shot. Miloš falls from the tower, the soldier tumbles from the train, and the two lie in a ditch, the soldier endlessly calling for the mother of his children and marching on the spot, trying to get back to her and away from his own impending death. Miloš shoots the soldier through the heart in order to silence him, and then through the eye for good measure, before his own mortality catches up with him, repeating a line uttered to him recently: “you should have sat at home on your arse.”23

Film: While Hubička is being questioned about stamping Zdenička’s bottom, their target train approaches, although he is unable to leave. Miloš takes the initiative and climbs up the signal tower, from where he can drop the bomb, an act which ultimately leads to his death after he is shot by an unseen soldier in the carriage and falls onto the train, which carries away his body into the distance like a Viking ship. The destruction of the train blows Miloš’s hat into the hands of a confused Máša, while Hubička chortles over the success of the sabotage mission.

Menzel reportedly filmed an alternate ending, in which Miloš survives the blast and is propelled into the boughs of a tree.24 The film ending as it exists now, however, imbues it with pathos, as well as comedy, and shows a tremendous dramatic arc for Miloš: a young man who at the beginning is consumed with losing his virginity and wants to carry on the family tradition of laziness yet instead consciously decides to take the place of another, putting himself in immense danger, thereby sacrificing himself through a heroic deed. It also makes a wonderful middle ground between the gruesome climax of the book and the overly comical resolution of the alternative finale, with its “Hollywood ending”.

Closely Observed Trains is seen by many as Menzel’s best film, and it was also the most successful of all Czechoslovak New Wave films at the box office.25 The great Czech writer Josef Škvorecký has stated that Closely Observed Trains brings out “those qualities of the literary text that are essentially cinematographic…[shifting] the whole thing across the horizon from an avant-garde experiment past a modernistic narrative in which humour and tragedy are in balance, to a popular, highly polished and filmically almost flawless entertainment.”26

However, Menzel’s place in cinematic history almost didn’t happen as he wasn’t the first choice as director; after Barrandov Studios in Prague had decided to adapt the book, they approached Evald Schorm, who made his feature debut with Každý den odvahu (Courage for Every Day, 1964), yet he was unsure how to approach the film from a cinematic perspective. It was subsequently offered to Věra Chytilová, who had made her feature debut with O něčem jiném (Something Different, 1963), but she also turned it down; interestingly, in 1966 she directed the romping, surrealist masterpiece Sedmikrásky (Daisies), her most well-known film. The producers then offered the film to Menzel, who said “yes, he knew what to do with it all right, although only some time later did he reveal that he hadn’t had the slightest idea at that time.”27

Unfortunately, as Menzel recalled, “Russian tanks rolled in a couple months after I received the Academy Award” and “everything was different”28, so the afterglow of the Oscar was short-lived, and the further liberalisation that had come about during the Prague Spring of 1968 was decisively smashed, leading to less freedom for all Czechoslovak citizens.

Capricious Summer

Following the success of Closely Observed Trains, Menzel’s next film was another literary adaptation, though with a slower, more bucolic, and less revolutionary flavour. Vladislav Vančura was an important Czech writer of the first half of the 20th century, whose membership of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and opposition to fascism saw him join a communist resistance group in 1939. After Czech commandos assassinated Reinhard Heydrich, Hitler’s governor in Prague, in 1942, Vančura was one of several thousand Czechs killed in reprisals, including the slaughter of the inhabitants of the small village of Lidice and the complete razing of the town itself.

Vančura’s literary output included several plays, as well as the novel Marketa Lazarová, depicting the transition from paganism to Christianity during the 13th century, which director František Vláčil adapted in 1967 into the epic of the same name, becoming what a 1998 poll of Czech and Slovak critics and filmmakers regarded as the best Czech film of all time. 29 In the same year, Menzel adapted another of Vančura’s novels, Rozmarné léto (Capricious Summer), into a feature film.

Rozmarné léto (Capricious Summer, 1967)

Capricious Summer centres on three men whose best years are well behind them: Antonín (Rudolf Hrušínský), the philandering proprietor of a river-based bathing establishment; Canon Roch (František Řehák), a member of the clergy who rarely seems to be in church; and Major Hugo (Vlastimil Brodský), a retired soldier who nowadays prefers the fishing pole to the sword. Like with Closely Observed Trains – and even more so in this case – the central theme is sex, whether through reminiscences or the active pursuit of it.

The lives of these three men are upset when Arnoštek (Jiří Menzel), a circus performer, arrives unexpectedly at the river, performs a few tricks, eats some food, captivates Antonín’s unfulfilled wife Kateřina (Míla Myslíková), and then leaves. Discussing his art, Arnoštek remarks that “my audience tends to be inflexible and rewards me with inedible things,” giving us the feeling that this equally cheerful and morose character acknowledges that he is not always appreciated, something which Kateřina understands perfectly well. After Arnoštek leaves, Antonín finds it difficult to hide his dislike of him, stating “He ate a lot and paid for neither food nor admission” – this is only the beginning of their disdain towards him.

Rozmarné léto (Capricious Summer, 1967)

Everyone’s lives become even more disrupted after they encounter Anna (Jana Preissová), Arnoštek’s beautiful assistant, which sets the three men in motion to win her over. As each man takes his turn at trying to impress and bed Anna, his relationship with his friends changes. Concurrently, Kateřina makes a move for Arnoštek (given that Antonín no longer has any interest in her), who seems more than willing – at first – to satisfy her. Yet in their pursuit of Anna, we see that Antonín, the Canon and the Major are more talk than action. Through either cowardice, bad luck or tiredness, none of the men are able to win Anna’s heart or get her into their bed, though she does not seem overly distressed by this fact.

Capricious Summer shares much in common with the farcical operas of Mozart, where characters care less about their marriage vows and more about their carnal desires. This can also be seen through Kateřina, who, rather than simply complain about her husband’s pursuit of a much younger woman, gets her revenge by shacking up with Arnoštek, a much younger man, which at first annoys Antonín, until he convinces himself that he will be better off without her. Anna reveals an interesting side to her relationship with Arnoštek, stating that “he is a mediocre magician, but a good provider,” perhaps suggesting that their relationship is based more on economics than on love.

Unlike Closely Observed Trains, where the image often takes precedence over the word, the reverse is true in Capricious Summer, as the joy lies in the interplay between the characters and the inventive ways in which they cut each other down to size and jostle for Anna’s attention. While the film was the first of Menzel’s to be shot in colour and in widescreen, he seems to find this less interesting than the characters themselves and their verbal jousting. As Škvorecký states (in a not-too-flattering way), “the verbal humour springs from the disproportion between the ‘grand’ literary style and the ‘tiny’ contents,” however, he adds that “Menzel’s treatment was flawless and reverent and, with the assistance of an excellent cast, he exploited the text to its full potential.”30 Hames has stated that “the film’s three main characters…are full of dry humour and flashes of interplay that take the film beyond any mere dependence on language.”31

By the end of Capricious Summer, none of the main characters have really achieved anything worthwhile – and the Canon and the Major have even sustained injuries – and their relationships have suffered; Arnoštek and Anna leave the town in a worse state than when they found it; and Antonín and Kateřina realise they are stuck with each other. Antonín sums up their experiences at the end of the film in the same way that he described the disappointing weather at the beginning: “the course of this summer seems unfortunate.” It is a prescient line, given the clouds that would soon cover Czechoslovakia.

Larks on a String

From 5 January to 21 August 1968, Czechoslovakia enjoyed a period of political liberalisation, known as the Prague Spring, under the leadership of Alexander Dubček, First Secretary of the Czechoslovak Communist Party. Dubček aimed to offer “socialism with a human face”, giving the press more freedom, guaranteeing civil rights through a revised constitution, and beginning plans to democratise the government. The progress of reforms was too slow for many Czechs and Slovaks, who began mass protests in June. By August, the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries had had enough of this “counterrevolution”, and Soviet armed forces invaded and occupied the country. The wonderful spring that the country had enjoyed quickly became a winter that would last for the next 20 years, until the Velvet Revolution finally released Czechoslovakia from the clutches of a repressive political system.

Skřivánci na niti (Larks on a String/Skylarks on a String, 1969) is Menzel’s most political film, which began production during the Prague Spring of 1968 but was not completed until 1969, resulting in the film being banned immediately by the Communist authorities. It was not seen again until 1990, when it was screened at the Berlin Film Festival and won the Golden Bear. The film is based on another novel by Hrabal, titled Inzerát na dům, ve kterém už nechci bydlet (Advertisement for a House I Don’t Want to Live in Anymore), published in 1965.

While the subversiveness was a little more hidden in Closely Observed Trains, in Larks on a String, Menzel hides very little. He actively critiques life in Stalinist Czechoslovakia, depicting and thumbing his nose at the repressive system by focusing on the lengths that humans will go to in order to retain their humanity, and even just to survive each day. Another difference is that Larks on a String focuses on a group of individuals – many with their own sub-plots – rather than centring the narrative totally around a single protagonist, which helps to strengthen the idea that they are fighting for a common goal and their fates are intertwined. The characters, former members of the bourgeoisie and those who tried to escape to the West, “are being re-educated and introduced to the benefits of the new utopia via forced labour,”32 an irony which is reinforced throughout the film via propaganda posters extolling the virtues of work, and labourers disappearing when they question the system.

Skřivánci na niti (Larks on a String/Skylarks on a String, 1969)

The film opens on a grey, grimy landscape of factories dominating the countryside of Kladno – incidentally, the town where Hrabal had been employed in a steelworks years before – while the low hum of discordant sounds plays unnervingly. It is quickly followed by beautiful melodies as the camera cranes across the jagged pieces of scrap metal, coming to rest on a man getting a haircut. The foreman (Rudolf Hrušínský) gives a short introduction on the various workers, highlighting the absurdity of their situations: a professor of philosophy (Vlastimil Brodský) who refused to shred decadent Western literature; a public prosecutor (Leoš Suchařípa) who believed defendants had a right to a defence; a saxophonist (Eugen Jegorov) who lost work when saxophones were abolished as bourgeois instruments; a former “dairyman” (Vladimír Ptáček) who willingly volunteered to work for socialism yet who is one of the system’s harshest critics; and Pavel (Václav Neckář), an insolent cook who didn’t want to work on Saturdays due to religious reasons and who, according to the foreman, “will not die a natural death.” The foreman explains that, like the scrap metal, the labourers will also be melted down into “a new kind of people,” yet it becomes obvious that they will resist all attempts to do so, even if it costs them dearly.

Whereas Miloš’s identity in Closely Observed Trains is tightly bound to his virginity, in Larks on a String “the object of [Pavel’s] desire is frustrated not by his own short comings, but instead by the oppressive political situation which keeps him from his lover.”33 In Closely Observed Trains, the danger of the enemy is implied more than shown – except for when Miloš is abducted at gunpoint, and later shot during his sabotage attempt – yet Larks on a String makes it far more evident. While the prison guard (Jaroslav Satoranský) is ineffectual and has his own issues to deal with (a Roma bride whose cultural differences take some time to adjust to), he eventually shows his humanity to his charges, yet the Communist authorities are a constant threat and are more than willing to whisk away in a black sedan anyone who dares to stand up to them, such as the dairyman and the professor.

Despite the dangers, there are several instances throughout Larks on a String where, with comical effects, the authorities endeavour to filter the reality of the situation through the lenses of Socialist Realism glasses, portraying life under Stalinism as utopian and absurd. At the beginning of the film, the grubby scrapyard is beautified by the installation of pot plants, bright red backdrops, and even a fish tank, all in an effort to film the workers shouting anti-imperialist and anti-Western lines and rejoicing in their “voluntary” labour. A union representative (Zdeněk Svěrák) arrives in a limousine, removes his fedora and tie, and dons a worker’s cap, in an effort to endear himself to the workers, while “the incorrigibles blink in the sun, failing to be impressed.”34 Near the end, a high-ranking official appears and is greeted with flag-waving reverence from an obsequious crowd. Pavel, caring not about the official’s promises of bread and music, instead asks where dairyman and the professor have gone. Before Pavel is able to consummate his marriage with his new bride, he, too, is shuffled into a car. Later, we see him with the dairyman and the professor, before they all plunge into the depths of a coal mine, refusing to be brought down by the system.

The profound need for human contact is a recurring theme in the film, whether it’s through hands touching over an open fire, covert sexual encounters in the mud, or a couple waiting for two years until they are released from the clutches of forced labour before they can finally share a bed. Larks on a String once again shows Menzel’s (and Hrabal’s) preoccupation with sex but also a masterly use of dialogue and image which are dripping with meaning, particularly when it comes to intimacy. In one of the most poignant moments, after Pavel has been married, he informs his mother, who is busy shovelling coal into a bucket; the main response she can muster is “that’s nice”, before falling asleep, as she has undertaken more work in one day than most of the men in their entire time at the scrapyard.

Skřivánci na niti (Larks on a String_Skylarks on a String, Jiří Menzel, 1969)

In what has been described as a depiction of child abuse35, the foreman regularly visits slums inhabited by Roma, extolling the virtues of cleanliness, before washing a young, naked Roma girl. It is a strange and unsettling scene which “undermines the official images of ‘socialist love’ as love between members of the working classes that involves no coercion.”36 Given Menzel’s criticism of Stalinism, it is certainly no surprise why Larks on a String was immediately banned and then did not appear until the Communist regime had been ejected from Czechoslovakia.

Cutting It Short

The first half of the 1970s was a difficult time for Menzel and Hrabal; following the banning of Larks on a String, neither were allowed to direct films or write. In 1974, Menzel completed Kdo hledá zlaté dno (Who Looks for Gold), “an empty Socialist Realism piece about a construction site that was no more than an obligatory act of penance”, while Hrabal did not publish again until 1976, when Postřižiny (Cutting It Short), written in 1970, was finally allowed to be released.37 Menzel’s 1980 film of the same name explores Hrabal’s childhood memories of the small town of Nymburk, and it continues to be one of Menzel’s most loved films, by audiences and critics alike.

The film centres on the character of Maryška (Magda Vášáryová), a beautiful woman who is equal parts feminine and “one of the boys”, adored as much for her looks, vivacity and culinary skills as for her meat eating and beer swilling. What makes Maryška particularly interesting is that, “rather than being a passive object of male erotic pursuits, she follows her own instincts and controls male interest in her”38 Like Samson of the Bible, Maryška derives much of her power over men from her long, flowing locks, which she occasionally unfurls to flutter in the wind. As we see near the end, the title of the film has an unfortunate relationship to her lustrous hair.

Postřižiny (Cutting It Short, 1976)

The village is dominated by the local brewery, where Maryška’s husband, Francin (Jiří Schmitzer) is the administrator; he has trouble disguising his jealousy as men constantly leer at his wife. Maryška, on the other hand, revels in the attention, which further makes Francin uncomfortable with his wife’s overt sexuality and openness. The couple usurp the usual gendered expectations of males and females, as Maryška eats steak and drinks beer for breakfast, while Francin gets by on a coffee and bread. She will happily slice up a recently departed pig and down a pint in a single gulp, while Francin barely touches alcohol (even as a brewery administrator) and has a weak constitution. Only after Maryška sprains her ankle does Francin have a chance to keep her bedridden and away from the ogling eyes of the townsfolk, where he can control every aspect of Maryška’s life.

Francin’s life is upset dramatically following the arrival of his brother, Pepin (Jaromír Hanzlík), a cobbler who has returned from the war with what appears to be shell shock. Cutting It Short features the most in-depth portrayal of the Uncle Pepin character, who constantly shouts stream-of-consciousness monologues to everyone and no one. As stated above, Hrabal was captivated by his uncle, “who came for a two-week visit, [and] stayed for forty years”39. While Pepin is a grating figure for Francin, we can’t help but like him, as he makes a humorous counterpoint to his uptight brother, with his absurd soliloquies, off-key singing, and joyous attitude. Pepin affects the lives of everyone around him, including a poor brewery worker who happens to sustain some kind of injury whenever Pepin is nearby.

Cutting It Short has a sumptuous visual style, particularly in regards to the camera’s doting view of Maryška, making it easy to see why the villagers love her. The use of natural light, lingering shots, and warm colours help you see the beauty not only of Maryška but also of the town, the brewery, and the way of life. Magda Vášáryová, a Slovak actress who came to prominence in the title role in Marketa Lazarová, positively shines as Maryška, giving her strength, vulnerability, and sexual allure. Menzel’s rendering of Maryška is different to Hrabal’s, as there is “a domestication or smoothing away of the rawer, less palatable aspects of Hrabal’s tales”;40 although, as the screenplay was a joint effort between Menzel and Hrabal, it’s likely that this was a conscious decision on both their parts for the film adaptation.

Overall, the tone of Cutting It Short is light, unobjectionable (save perhaps for the butchering of a pig in the opening scenes), and with plenty of humour and slapstick (including a fire brigade who insist they aren’t the Keystone Cops), helping the viewer to nostalgise the past alongside Menzel and Hrabal. While certain aspects of the film may offend modern sensibilities, it helps to see it as a product of its time in regards to sexual politics, although Maryška certainly goes against the typical stereotype of the demure housewife. While she may not be as “raw” as Hrabal’s portrayal of her, she is complex and self-assured, someone who enjoys sex, sexuality and the male gaze without apology.

The title is reflected in the final scenes when the brewery employees receive a new radio, which will “cut short” the distance between people. Taking this cue literally, Maryška and Pepin saw off the legs of the dinner table, before she rides off into town to have her hair trimmed. When she returns, her mane has been cropped significantly, resulting in a short and modern coiffure that enrages Francin. He then punishes Maryška publicly by whipping her bottom, which she appears to enjoy, as she slides down her underwear in order for him to make contact with her bare skin, a sly smile indicating that she is enjoying the reprimand. Francin proceeds to whisk her away on his bicycle, whereby Maryška informs him that she is pregnant, although we get the impression that, despite Francin’s wishes and actions, she will not bend as easily to his will as she did to his whip.

My Sweet Little Village

In 1985, Menzel continued with the small-town feel in the delightful Vesničko má středisková (My Sweet Little Village). The script was penned by Zdeněk Svěrák, who appeared in one of his first film roles in Larks on a String, and also wrote the script for another of Menzel’s films, Na samotě u lesa (Seclusion Near a Forest, 1976). He would later go on to win a Czech Lion for Best Screenplay for Kolja (Kolya, 1996); the film, directed by his son Jan, also won an Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

My Sweet Little Village tells the story of Otík (János Bán), an intellectually disabled man who works as an assistant to truck driver Karel (Marián Labuda), a portly and short-tempered man who constantly must deal with the fallout of the antics of his daydreaming, accident-prone underling. Eventually, Karel has had enough and asks for Otík to be paired with another driver, which, understandably, upsets Otík, who idolises his co-worker. Otík is played by János Bán, a Hungarian actor who apparently didn’t know how to speak Czech, which seemed to help his portrayal of the innocent character. Despite Karel’s expressed feelings about Otík, it becomes obvious that he does care, even if he has a strange way of showing it.

Vesničko má středisková (My Sweet Little Village, 1985)

Several sub-plots give weight to the film, such as: Karel’s lovestruck son trying to win the affections of his sister’s teacher; the veterinarian engaging in a secret affair with a truck driver’s wife, using Otík’s house as their rendezvous point (as well as a river bank while the husband swims in front of them); and a visiting artist (Svěrák) who ends up romancing the teacher, which causes the son to attempt suicide (ineffectually). There are several running gags as well, one concerning a worker who continually puts expired matches back in the box (until he almost combusts his genitals), and another involving the town doctor (Rudolf Hrušínský), who is constantly at the mercy of his dilapidated automobile and its constant breaking down (or perhaps it’s his poor driving skills), akin to the brewery worker in Cutting It Short who was always getting injured (who, interestingly, was played by Hrušínský’s son, Rudolf Jr.)

My Sweet Little Village “describes an idealised world of a socialist village and places it in contrast with life in a city”41; disparaging comments are made about “Prague weekenders” and the capital is depicted almost as a foreign country to which no one in their right mind would visit, least of all live in. Yet it is to Prague that Otík is drawn (or, rather, pushed), which soon becomes the main storyline.

Like Cutting It Short, My Sweet Little Village presents a sentimental view of rural life, although there is a greater semblance of plot above and beyond nostalgia, highlighting the writing talents of Svěrák and the keen eye of Menzel. While Karel originally wanted to be rid of Otík, it is he who fights to bring him back, when he discovers that the reason Otík was offered the job in Prague was so a businessman could obtain his childhood home, where he lives alone with his pigeons. My Sweet Little Village may represent an imaginary or overly romantic view of life in the country, yet it was described at the time by Roger Ebert as “a subtle attack on bureaucracy and a cheerful assertion of human nature.”42 As Otík and Karel walk and cavort into the distance, as Jiří Šust’s delightful music plays, we get the feeling that things will work out just fine for this oddest of couples.

I Served the King of England

Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England, 2006) was Menzel’s sixth adaptation of a Hrabal work, and his last film to enjoy critical and box office success, though mostly abroad. Despite the source material again being a Hrabal novel, the film is a return to an emphasis on the visuals over the dialogue, supplemented this time by some special effects. I Served the King of England is perhaps Menzel’s most stylish film, with cinematography once again undertaken by Jaromír Šofr, who worked with Menzel on 14 of his films.

The protagonist is Jan Ditě, whose surname means ‘child’ in Czech, which is fitting as he happens to be very short. Throughout the film, we witness life from the perspective of a young Jan (Ivan Barnev) as well as his older self (Oldřich Kaiser), showing his rise and eventual fall. When we first see Jan, leaving prison after serving most of a 15-year sentence, the heavy metal door clangs behind him, snagging his bag, and he is unable to move off – a subtle piece of comedy which prepares us for the humour to come. Waiting for a train, Jan explains his sole aspirations as a younger man: to become a millionaire, which will bring him a rich bride, his own hotel, and the respect of others.

His goal is supplemented when he discovers that, due to making and saving money, he can now afford the company of women at a brothel aptly named “Paradise”, and so he takes on the second motivation of sex. Through dumb luck and an awful lot of cunning (and once actually because of his lack of height), Jan manages to rise in the ranks from frankfurt vendor to waiter to eventually acquiring his own hotel. He seems painfully oblivious when his Nazi wife Liza (Julia Jentsch) shows him stamps stolen from Jews sent to concentration camps, which they’ll sell to follow their dreams. In fact, at one stage he utters in voiceover, “But I didn’t know how – nor did I want – to listen,” which sums up Jan’s approach to most of his life.

Jan comes across as a “passive and slow-witted but in reality intelligent and sensitive ‘simple Czech'”43, whose simple-mindedness and naivety about history, politics and current events allow him to stumble through life. His intelligence (though “guile” is perhaps a better term) helps him to amass a fortune, and his sensitivity is expressed through artistic creations centred around the nude female form – he is the personification of the picaresque protagonist.

Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England, 2006)

Unsurprisingly, sex and the male gaze are major themes of I Served the King of England; the women in Menzel’s film worlds are generally liberated individuals who understand and enjoy the effect they have on men, freely partaking of sex without any religious or moral compulsion towards shame. Though, in one particularly dark sequence, as Jan is masturbating into a glass in order to check the motility of his sperm (and thus create life), the lives of many Czech men (“vile traitors”, according to a newspaper) are about to be extinguished.

It is only after Jan has served his prison sentence that he appears to have learnt anything at all about the world or himself. Despite his desire for acceptance by the upper classes, not even his fellow millionaires in prison want to associate with him. After release, he finally finds his place in a rundown pub in a forest, becoming friends with other rejects of the Communist machine: an eccentric professor of French literature and aesthetics (Milan Lasica), and a woman with a proclivity for sex (Zuzana Fialová). Yet even they eventually move on, and Jan must come to terms with his crimes, where “he finds peace after self-reflection, and the child finally grows into an adult.”44

Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England, 2006)

I Served the King of England was criticised in the Czech Republic for not staying true to Hrabal’s source material (this is discussed in depth, along with other of Menzel’s films, in Shivendra Singh Dungarpur’s epic and excellent seven-hour documentary on the Czechoslovak New Wave, Czechmate: In Search of Jiří Menzel [2018]); even Menzel acknowledged that Hrabal’s artistry and the way he saw humans and the world were on a different, elevated level to his own. As Menzel’s films often deviated from Hrabal’s words, one wonders if part of the criticism is because the film deals with what is an uncomfortable subject even to this day, namely, the collaboration of Czechs with the Nazis in WWII.

While the film may not have lived up to the expectations of Hrabal’s compatriots, or be as well crafted as Closely Observed Trains or as sharply cutting as Larks on a String, I Served the King of England is a thoroughly enjoyable film with a poignancy above and below the surface that helps to enrich it and make it Menzel’s best work since My Sweet Little Village.


Menzel stated – rather matter-of-factly – that:

‘Film is my job. Sometimes it is fun, sometimes not so much. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. But I don’t have any special sacred relationship to it. It is my job. That’s all’ – Jiří Menzel45

This seems to be a disingenuous statement coming from a place of frustration more than sincerity. While Menzel recognised that, overall, his output had been uneven, with dizzying highs due to his own talent and collaborating with other gifted artists, as well as embarrassing lows from being stifled by the Communist regime and making some questionable choices and compromises, it is obvious that film was his life and was more than just a job.

Even taking into consideration his theatre directing, as well as acting roles in his own and other directors’ films, it was Menzel’s place as a cinema director for which he was loved and admired – for very good reason. The fact that the seven films examined above exist – and even some of his lesser-known works such as Na samotě u lesa (Seclusion Near a Forest, 1976), Slavnosti sněženek (The Snowdrop Festival, 1983), and Konec starých časů (The End of Old Times, 1989) – means that Menzel could be more than forgiven for any and all of his misfires, and commended and remembered for his remarkable contributions to the world of cinema.

Jiří Menzel



2013 Donšajni (Don Juans/Skirt Chasers)
2006 Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále (I Served the King of England)
2002 Dalších deset minut II. (Ten Minutes Older: The Cello)
1993 Život a neobyčejná dobrodružství vojáka Ivana Čonkina (The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin)
1991 Žebrácká opera (Beggar’s Opera)
1989 Konec starých časů (The End of Old Times)
1985 Vesničko má středisková (My Sweet Little Village)
1985 Čokoládoví čmuchalové (The Chocolate Sniffers)
1983 Slavnosti sněženek (Snowdrop Festival)
1980 Postřižiny (Cutting it Short/Shortcuts)
1978 Báječní muži s klikou (Those Wonderful Movie Cranks)
1976 Na samotě u lesa (Seclusion, Near Woods)
1974 Kdo hledá zlaté dno (Who Looks for Gold?)
1969 Skřivánci na niti (Larks on a String)
1968 Zločin v šantánu (Crime in a Nightclub)
1967 Rozmarné léto (Capricious Summer)
1966 Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains)
1965 Perličky na dně (Pearls of the Deep) (short)
1965 Zločin v dívčí škole (Crime in the Girls’ School)
1963 Umřel nám pan Foerster (The Death of Our Mr Forester) (short)


1990 Audience
1982 Krasosmutnění


2011 Inventura Febia (TV serial)
2011 Zvláštní světy Hrabala a Fukse (Episode 45)
2010 Vaše moře, naše moře (Your Sea, Our Sea)
1983 GEN – Galerie elity národa (TV serial)
1983 Capitali culturali d’Europa (TV serial)
1974 Proměny krajiny (Altered Landscapes)
1965 Koncert 65 (Concert ’65)
1961 Žurnál FAMU: První občasník (short segment: Praxe)
1959 Domy z panelů (Prefabricated Houses)

Further Reading

Bubeníček, Petr. Subversive Adaptations: Czech Literature on Screen behind the Iron Curtain. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017.

Hames, Peter. Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

Hames, Peter. The Czechoslovak New Wave. New York: Wallflower Press, 2005.

Hrabal, Bohumil. Closely Observed Trains. London: Abacus, 1968, translated by Edith Pargeter.

Hrabal, Bohumil. The Death of Mr. Baltisberger. Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 2010, translated by Michael Henry Heim.

Hrabal, Bohumil. Why I Write? Prague: Karolinum Press, 2019, translated by David Short.

Owen, Jonathan L. Avant-Garde to New Wave: Czechoslovak Cinema, Surrealism and the Sixties. Oxford: Berghahn, 2013.

Pelán, Jiří. Bohumil Hrabal: A Full-length Portrait. Prague: Karolinum Press, 2019, translated by David Short.

Škvorecký, Josef. All the Bright Young Men and Women: A Personal History of the Czech Cinema. Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1975, translated by Michael Schonberg.



  1. Josef Škvorecky, All the Bright Young Men and Women: A Personal History of the Czech Cinema (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1975), p. 216.
  2. Mira Liehm and Antonin Liehm, The Most Important Art: Soviet and Eastern European Film After 1945 (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1977), p. 277
  3. R.J. Cardullo, Teaching Sound Film (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2016), p. 117.
  4. Cerise Howard, “‘Pearls of the Deep’, or Five Masterly Apprentices’ Guides to Bohumil Hrabal’s Gift of the Gab“, Senses of Cinema, September 2016.
  5. Petr Bubeníček, Subversive Adaptations: Czech Literature on Screen behind the Iron Curtain (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), p. 27.
  6. Peter Hames, The Czechoslovak New Wave (New York: Wallflower Press, 2005), p.152.
  7. Jiří Pelán, Bohumil Hrabal: A Full-length Portrait, translated by David Short (Prague: Karolinum Press, 2019), p. 24.
  8. Becca Rothfeld, “The Violent Insights of Bohumil Hrabal”, The New Yorker, 19 November 2019.
  9. Jonathan L. Owen, “Closely Observed Bodies: Corporeality, Totalitarianism and Subversion in Jiří Menzel’s 1960s Adaptations of Bohumil Hrabal”, Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue Canadienne des Slavistes 51 (December 2009): p. 495.
  10. Jiří Pelán, Bohumil Hrabal: A Full-length Portrait, translated by David Short (Prague: Karolinum Press, 2019), p. 28.
  11. Josef Škvorecky, All the Bright Young Men and Women: A Personal History of the Czech Cinema (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1975), p. 169.
  12. Jonathan L. Owen, Avant-Garde to New Wave: Czechoslovak Cinema, Surrealism and the Sixties (Oxford: Berghahn, 2013), p. 76.
  13. Jiří Pelán, Bohumil Hrabal: A Full-length Portrait, translated by David Short (Prague: Karolinum Press, 2019), p. 29.
  14. Hrabal, quoted in Bohumil Hrabal & Jiří Menzel, Closely Observed Trains, a film by Jiri Menzel and Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Josef Holzbecher (London: Lorrimer Publishing), p.5.
  15. Peter Hames, The Czechoslovak New Wave (New York: Wallflower Press, 2005), p.157.
  16. Alfred Thomas, The Bohemian Body: Gender and Sexuality in Modern Czech Culture (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2007), pp. 188-9.
  17. Wikipedia. The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Les préludes,” accessed July 3, 2020.
  18. Daniel Brennan, “Jiří Menzel’s treatment of sacrifice”, Ethics & Bioethics (In Central Europe) 9 (3-4), p. 212.
  19. Emmanuel Klint-Gassner, “The Resilient Czech Spirit, on Display in Bohumil Hrabal’s Closely Observed Trains and I Served the King of England”, Inquiries Journal, 2, 03.
  20. Amanda Qualls, Sexuality in the Czech New Wave, (accessed 28/6/20), p.6.
  21. Peter Hames, “Ostře sledované vlaky/Closely Observed Trains,” in The Cinema of Central Europe, Peter Hames, ed. (London: Wallflower Press, 2004), p. 123.
  22. Jonathan L. Owen, Avant-Garde to New Wave: Czechoslovak Cinema, Surrealism and the Sixties (Oxford: Berghahn, 2013), p. 95.
  23. Bohumil Hrabal, Closely Observed Trains (London: Abacus, 1968; translated by Edith Pargeter), p. 91.
  24. David Sorfa, Closely Watched Trains – Summary, Analysis (September 2019).
  25. R.J. Cardullo, Teaching Sound Film (Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 2016), p. 117.
  26. Josef Škvorecký, Jiří Menzel and the History of the Closely Watched Trains (Boulder, New York: Columbia University Press, 1982), p. 51.
  27. Hrabal, quoted in Bohumil Hrabal & Jiří Menzel, Closely Observed Trains, a film by Jiri Menzel and Bohumil Hrabal, translated by Josef Holzbecher (London: Lorrimer Publishing), p.5.
  28. Robert Buchar, Czech New Wave Filmmakers in Interviews, Jefferson, NC: McFarland), p. 47
  29. Tom Gunning, Cinema of the Wolf: The Mystery of Marketa Lazarová, (June 2013).
  30. Josef Škvorecký, All the Bright Young Men and Women: A Personal History of the Czech Cinema (Toronto: Peter Martin Associates, 1975), p. 172.
  31. Peter Hames, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2009), p. 45.
  32. Peter Hames, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2009), p. 42.
  33. Daniel Brennan, “Jiří Menzel and Jan Patočka on sacrifice”, Screening the Past 41 (2016).
  34. George Bluestone, “Jiří Menzel and the Second Prague Spring,” Film Quarterly 44 (Autumn 1990): p. 29.
  35. Ewa Mazierska, Masculinities in Polish, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Black Peters and Men of Marble (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), p. 149.
  36. ibid.
  37. Peter Hames, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2009), p. 42.
  38. Ewa Mazierska, Masculinities in Polish, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Black Peters and Men of Marble (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), p. 163.
  39. Peter Hames, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Theme and Tradition (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Press, 2009), p. 43
  40. Jonathan L. Owen, “Closely Observed Bodies: Corporeality, Totalitarianism and Subversion in Jiří Menzel’s 1960s Adaptations of Bohumil Hrabal”, Canadian Slavonic Papers / Revue Canadienne des Slavistes 51 (December 2009): p. 497.
  41. Luboš Ptáček, “The Late Films of Jiří Menzel: The Broken Spell of Nostalgia and Melancholy Heroes in I Served the English King (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále, 2006) and Skirt Chasers (Donšajni, 2013),” Ekphrasis 1 (2019): p. 226.
  42. Roger Ebert, “My Sweet Little Village”, (January 1987).
  43. Ewa Mazierska, Masculinities in Polish, Czech and Slovak Cinema: Black Peters and Men of Marble (New York: Berghahn Books, 2010), p. 25.
  44. Luboš Ptáček, “The Late Films of Jiří Menzel: The Broken Spell of Nostalgia and Melancholy Heroes in I Served the English King (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále, 2006) and Skirt Chasers (Donšajni, 2013),” Ekphrasis 1 (2019): p. 234
  45. Shivendra Singh Dungarpur, dir., Czechmate: In Search of Jiří Menzel (2018; Dungarpur Films)

About The Author

Brendan Black is a Melbourne-based filmmaker, playwright, wine writer and composer. In 2012 he was one of the founders of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia. He is the co-editor of the forthcoming book I’m Not a Film Star: David Bowie as Actor (Bloomsbury, 2022).

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