Thursday, March 25, 2004

Czech Out These Great Films

In the mid-60s what was then Czechoslovakia won two best foreign film Oscars in 1965 and 1967, a powerful one-two knock-out from a country which was about to get knocked pretty badly itself. I finally saw the later of these films, “Closely Watched Trains,” which keenly observes the lives and lusts of a sleepy backwater train station in Nazi-occupied Czech-land. We meet the unforgettable matchstick-shaped young Milos and live through his frustrated attempts to lose his virginity. What’s striking is how honestly human sexuality is presented, at a time when Hollywood labored under a morals code that all but banished the subject from the screen. And I don’t mean explicitly showing sex acts or nude bodies, but rather showing how sexuality informs human behavior, feeling, communication, and self-image.

”Shop On Main Street” is also a masterpiece with a very different Nazi occupation story. It concerns an old, nearly deaf Jewish lady who owns a button shop and the Mayor’s brother-in-law, who hopes to get rich being the shop’s “Aryan owner;” it turns out the shop is broke, and only exists out of the kindness of Jewish neighbors, who buy what they don’t need to help the lady out. The relationship that ensues, and where it leads, are a powerful story and the acting is nothing short of miraculous

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