Jiří Menzel was a Czech film director, screenwriter, and actor who made a significant contribution to Czechoslovakian cinema.

He was a prominent figure in the Czech New Wave movement of the 1960s, which was characterized by its use of humor, irony, and a critical approach to social and political issues.

Menzel’s films were known for their whimsical and comedic tone, but they also explored deeper themes such as human relationships, morality, and the absurdity of life under totalitarian regimes.

Some of his best-known films include “Closely Watched Trains” (1966), which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and “Larks on a String” (1969), which was banned by the Czechoslovakian government and was not released until 1990 after the fall of communism.

Menzel’s films often featured memorable characters and quirky, off-beat humor that made them stand out from other films of their time.

He was also known for his skillful use of music and sound, which added depth and emotion to his films.

Best Jiri Menzel Films

Menzel’s films offer a unique perspective on life under communist rule in Czechoslovakia, and they continue to inspire filmmakers today.

His work is a testament to the power of humor and storytelling as tools for social and political commentary.

1. Closely Watched Trains (1966)

“Closely Watched Trains” is a Czechoslovakian film released in 1966, directed by Jirí Menzel and based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal.

The film is set during World War II and follows the story of Milos Hrma, a young man who works as a train dispatcher at a small station in rural Czechoslovakia.

As Milos struggles with his job and his love life, he becomes involved in a plot to blow up a Nazi train that passes through the station.

Despite his inexperience and nervousness, Milos finds himself at the center of the action, and must confront his fears and stand up to the occupying German forces.

“Closely Watched Trains” is known for its dark humor, poetic imagery, and its exploration of the themes of love, courage, and resistance in the face of oppression.

The film won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar at the 40th Academy Awards, and has since become a classic of Czech cinema and a favorite of film lovers around the world.

   

The film’s innovative cinematography, which uses dreamlike sequences and surreal imagery to explore the inner world of its characters, has been praised as a masterpiece of the Czech New Wave, a movement of experimental filmmaking that emerged in the 1960s.

Overall, “Closely Watched Trains” is a poignant and visually stunning film that offers a powerful critique of the horrors of war and the human spirit’s resilience in the face of adversity.

Closely Watched Trains (The Criterion Collection) [DVD]
  • Factory sealed DVD
  • Vaclav Neckar, Josef Somr, Vlastimil Brodský (Actors)
  • Jiri Menzel (Director)
  • English (Subtitle)
  • English (Publication Language)

2. Capricious Summer (1968)

“Capricious Summer” is a Czechoslovakian film from 1968, directed by Jirí Menzel. The film is a comedy-drama that takes place during a summer vacation in a small Czech town, following the misadventures of three men as they navigate love, friendship, and the unpredictable nature of life.

Here are some reasons why you should watch “Capricious Summer”:

Unique humor: The film is known for its dry and understated humor, which is a hallmark of Czech cinema. The film’s humor is subtle and nuanced, and is often juxtaposed with moments of melancholy and introspection.

Strong performances: The film’s cast, which includes Rudolf Hrusínský, Vlastimil Brodský, and Frantisek Rehák, are all excellent in their roles, bringing their own unique personalities and quirks to the film.

Their performances are natural and authentic, adding to the film’s realism and humor.

Beautiful cinematography: The film’s visual style is simple and understated, but also captures the beauty of the Czech countryside. The film’s use of natural light and outdoor locations adds to its realism and gives the film a timeless quality.

Poignant themes: Despite its comedic elements, the film also explores more serious themes such as love, loss, and the search for meaning in life. These themes give the film depth and resonance, and make it more than just a simple comedy.

Timeless quality: Although the film was made in the late 1960s, it has a timeless quality that makes it just as relevant and enjoyable today. Its themes and humor are universal, and its characters are relatable and human, making it a classic of Czech cinema.

3. I Served the King of England (2006)

“I Served the King of England” is a Czech comedy-drama film released in 2006 and directed by Jiri Menzel. Here are some key details about the movie:

Cast: Ivan Barnev played the lead role of Jan Dite, with Julia Jentsch, Oldrich Kaiser, Martin Huba, and Marián Labuda also appearing in supporting roles.

   

Plot: The film follows the life of Jan Dite, a young man who rises from humble beginnings to become a wealthy hotel owner and confidant of high-ranking officials during World War II.

Along the way, he becomes embroiled in various political and romantic intrigues, and ultimately learns the true cost of his ambition.

Production: “I Served the King of England” was based on a novel of the same name by Bohumil Hrabal, and was shot on location in the Czech Republic.

The movie features a blend of historical and fantastical elements, with surreal and absurdist touches that reflect the quirky sensibility of Hrabal’s writing.

Reception: The film was well-received by critics upon its release, with many praising the performances of the cast, the film’s visual style, and its blend of humor and pathos.

“I Served the King of England” was also a commercial success in the Czech Republic, and was submitted as the country’s official entry for the Best Foreign Language Film category at the Academy Awards.

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I Served the King of England (New Directions Classic)
  • Used Book in Good Condition
  • Hrabal, Bohumil (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 256 Pages - 05/31/2007 (Publication Date) - New Directions (Publisher)

4. My Sweet Little Village (1985)

“My Sweet Little Village” is a 1985 Czechoslovakian comedy film directed by Jiří Menzel. The film tells the story of a small Czech village that is turned upside down when a new postmaster arrives and tries to modernize the postal system.

The film is a humorous and affectionate portrait of rural life in Czechoslovakia, and features a large cast of colorful characters.

   

One of the main reasons to watch “My Sweet Little Village” is its clever and witty script, which is full of hilarious situations and quirky characters.

The film is a lighthearted and charming comedy that is guaranteed to put a smile on your face.

Another reason to watch the film is its beautiful cinematography, which captures the stunning landscapes and picturesque villages of the Czech countryside.

The film is a feast for the eyes, and its lush visuals help to transport the viewer into the heart of this charming and idyllic world.

Finally, “My Sweet Little Village” is a cultural treasure that provides a fascinating insight into life in Czechoslovakia during the 1980s.

The film is a celebration of the country’s traditions and way of life, and its warmth and humanity continue to resonate with audiences today. Whether you’re a fan of comedy, Czech cinema, or just good storytelling, “My Sweet Little Village” is a film that is definitely worth watching.

My Sweet Little Village (Vesnicko Ma, Strediskova) [NON-USA FORMAT, PAL, Reg.0 Import - Czech Republic]
  • Czech version DVD PAL - Please check your DVD player compatibility.
  • Audio: Czech
  • Subtitles: Czech English
  • Czech, English (Subtitles)
  • Audience Rating: NR (Not Rated)

5. Seclusion Near a Forest (1976)

“Seclusion Near a Forest” (also known as “Na samotě u lesa”) is a 1976 Czechoslovakian film directed by Jiří Menzel.

The movie tells the story of a wealthy family who moves into a country estate, hoping to escape the stresses of modern city life.

However, their plans for a peaceful life in the countryside are disrupted by a series of unexpected events, including a flood, a theft, and a murder.

The film deals with themes of class struggle, morality, and the search for meaning in life. As the family members navigate the challenges of their new environment, they must also confront their own personal demons and grapple with the question of what truly matters in life.

“Seclusion Near a Forest” was praised for its strong performances, particularly by the renowned Czech actor Rudolf Hrušínský, as well as its beautiful cinematography and evocative score.

The film also explores themes that were ahead of its time, such as the idea of the individual’s relationship to the environment and the impact of modernization on traditional ways of life.

Overall, “Seclusion Near a Forest” is a classic Czechoslovakian film that still holds up today as an engaging and thought-provoking work of art.

It’s worth watching for fans of Menzel’s work and those interested in exploring the complex themes of class, morality, and the human experience.

Na samote u lesa (1976) / Seclusion Near a Forest / Magany az erdoszelen
  • The Cottage Near a Wood DVD 1976 Magány az erdőszélen (Na samoté u lesa) / Directed by Jiri...
  • Daniela Kolarova, Josef Kemr, Zdenek Sverák (Actors)
  • Jiri Menzel (Director)
  • Hungarian (Subtitle)
  • Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)

6. Larks on a String (1990)

“Larks on a String” is a Czechoslovakian film directed by Jirí Menzel, released in 1990. The film was actually made in 1969, but was banned by the Czechoslovakian government and remained unreleased until after the fall of communism.

The film is set in a junkyard in a totalitarian regime, where a group of dissidents, including intellectuals and artists, are sent for re-education.

As they are forced to work in the yard alongside common criminals and prostitutes, they struggle to maintain their dignity and their ideals in the face of oppression and humiliation.

“Larks on a String” is known for its bleak yet humorous depiction of life under communism, as well as its exploration of the themes of freedom, human dignity, and the power of art to transcend adversity.

The film’s black-and-white cinematography, naturalistic performances, and poetic imagery have been praised as a masterpiece of the Czech New Wave, and the film has since become a cult classic of Eastern European cinema.

Despite its delayed release, “Larks on a String” won the Golden Bear award at the 1990 Berlin International Film Festival, cementing its place as a powerful and timeless work of political and artistic expression.

Larks on a String
  • Amazon Prime Video (Video on Demand)
  • Rudolf Hrusínský, Vlastimil Brodský, Václav Neckár (Actors)
  • Jirí Menzel (Director) - Jirí Menzel (Writer) - Karel Kochman (Producer)
  • English (Playback Language)
  • English (Subtitle)

7. Shortcuts (1981)

“Shortcuts” is a 1981 comedy-drama film directed by Robert Altman, based on a collection of short stories by Raymond Carver.

The film features a large ensemble cast, including Andie MacDowell, Julianne Moore, Tim Robbins, and Lily Tomlin, and weaves together multiple interlocking stories set in Los Angeles during the 1980s.

One of the main reasons to watch “Shortcuts” is its innovative narrative structure. The film consists of multiple loosely connected storylines that overlap and intersect in unexpected ways, creating a complex and layered portrait of life in Los Angeles.

Altman’s approach to storytelling is both daring and ambitious, and the result is a film that is both richly textured and endlessly fascinating.

Another reason to watch the film is its outstanding performances. The ensemble cast is uniformly excellent, and each actor brings a unique perspective and energy to their role.

The film explores a wide range of emotions, from love and joy to anger and despair, and the cast brings a remarkable depth and authenticity to their performances.

Finally, “Shortcuts” is a masterful exploration of the human condition, and offers a searing critique of American society in the 1980s.

The film explores themes such as isolation, alienation, and the struggle to find meaning in a world that often feels fragmented and disconnected. It is a powerful and thought-provoking film that continues to resonate with audiences today.

The Complete Book Of Sewing Shortcuts by Claire Schaeffer (1981-03-15)
  • unknown author (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • Sterling (Publisher)

8. Cutting It Short (1983)

“Cutting It Short” is a 1983 Czechoslovak comedy-drama film directed by Jiri Menzel. The film is based on a novel by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal and is set in the small town of Kersko in Czechoslovakia during the early 20th century.

It tells the story of Francin, a barber who dreams of opening a hair salon and marrying his sweetheart, Maryska.

The film is notable for its nostalgic depiction of rural life in Czechoslovakia, as well as its exploration of themes such as love, family, and community.

It also features a strong ensemble cast, including Jiri Schmitzer as Francin, Magda Vasaryova as Maryska, and Julius Satinsky as Francin’s father.

“Cutting It Short” was well-received by audiences and critics alike, and it won the Golden Bear award at the 34th Berlin International Film Festival.

The film is widely regarded as a classic of Czech cinema, and its humorous and poignant depiction of small-town life has earned it a place as a beloved cultural touchstone in the Czech Republic.

Cutting It Short
  • Bohumil Hrabal (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 112 Pages - 06/20/2017 (Publication Date) - PENGUIN POPULAR CLASSICS (Publisher)

3 Characteristics of Jiri Menzel Films

Jirí Menzel was a Czechoslovakian film director known for his contribution to the Czech New Wave movement of the 1960s. Here are three common characteristics of Menzel’s films:

Humor: Menzel’s films often incorporate elements of dark humor, satire, and absurdity, often used to comment on social and political issues. His characters are often portrayed as quirky and eccentric, adding to the comedic tone of his films.

Poetic imagery: Menzel’s films often feature poetic and dreamlike imagery, using metaphors and symbolism to convey deeper meanings and emotions.

His visual style is known for its delicacy, subtlety, and attention to detail.

Humanism: Menzel’s films are deeply humanistic, focusing on the struggles and experiences of everyday people. He often depicts the human condition with warmth, compassion, and a sense of hope, even in the face of adversity.

His characters are often flawed, but ultimately sympathetic and relatable, creating an emotional connection with the audience.

3 Reasons Why You Should Watch Jiri Menzel Films

Jiri Menzel was a Czech film director known for his distinctive style and use of humor in his movies. Here are three reasons why you should consider watching his films:

Unique blend of comedy and drama: Menzel’s films often blend elements of comedy and drama to create a distinct tone that is both humorous and poignant.

His movies are known for their quirky characters, offbeat situations, and unexpected plot twists, which can range from the absurd to the tragic.

Menzel’s ability to balance humor and pathos makes his films both entertaining and emotionally engaging.

Insight into Czech culture and history: Many of Menzel’s films are set in Czechoslovakia during the communist era, and offer a glimpse into the country’s history and cultural identity.

Menzel’s works often explore themes such as social class, political oppression, and the struggle for personal freedom, and his films are often informed by his own experiences growing up in Czechoslovakia.

Watching Menzel’s movies can thus provide a window into a unique and fascinating cultural milieu.

Masterful storytelling and filmmaking: Menzel was a highly skilled filmmaker who was able to create compelling stories that resonated with audiences around the world.

His films are marked by their careful pacing, richly drawn characters, and attention to detail, and he was skilled at using visual and auditory elements to create memorable cinematic experiences.

Watching Menzel’s films can thus be a masterclass in storytelling and filmmaking, and a source of inspiration for aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles.

Best Jiri Menzel Films – Wrapping Up

Jiri Menzel was a renowned Czechoslovakian film director and screenwriter known for his contributions to the Czech New Wave movement. Here are some of his best films that you should check out:

Closely Watched Trains (1966): This Oscar-winning film tells the story of a young railway apprentice who struggles to find his place in the world during World War II.

The film is a darkly humorous and insightful look at life under Nazi occupation.

My Sweet Little Village (1985): This charming comedy-drama follows the residents of a small Czech village as they adjust to the arrival of a new postmaster who tries to modernize their way of life. The film is a heartwarming tribute to rural life in Czechoslovakia.

Larks on a String (1990): This satirical film was banned by the communist government for over two decades and was finally released after the Velvet Revolution.

It tells the story of a group of intellectuals who are sent to a labor camp during the 1950s for their bourgeois backgrounds.

I Served the King of England (2006): This film tells the story of a young man who rises from a lowly waiter to a wealthy hotel owner during the tumultuous years of World War II and the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia.

The Snowdrop Festival (1984): This romantic comedy follows a young man as he navigates his way through a series of romantic entanglements during a small town festival.

These are just a few examples of Jiri Menzel’s incredible filmography. His films are marked by their humor, insight, and humanity, and offer a unique glimpse into Czechoslovakian culture and history.