Oscar-Winning Czech Film Director Jiri Menzel Dies Aged 82

The acclaimed director, whose “Closely Watched Trains” won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967, was also known for his close association with Brno-native author Bohumil Hrabal, directing movie adaptations of five of Hrabal’s novels. Photo: Jiri Menzel. Credit: Paul Katzenberger / CC BY-SA.

Czech Republic, Sep 7 (BD) – Jiri Menzel, one of the most iconic and best-loved Czech film directors, has died aged 82 following a long illness, as announced on Sunday by his wife, Olga Menzelova.

In a heartfelt post on Facebook, Menzelova wrote: “Our most beloved Jirka, the bravest among the brave, yesterday, in our home and in our loving arms, your body left this earthly life.”

Born in Prague in 1938, Menzel studied at FAMU, the film school of the Prague Academy of Performing Arts, the cradle of the burgeoning Czechoslovak New Wave. His 1967 film “Closely Watched Trains” [“Ostře sledované vlaky”], a story of sexual awakening during wartime based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967 and became a classic work of the movement. Menzel received another Oscar nomination for his 1985 film “My Sweet Little Village” [“Vesničko má středisková”].

Menzel went on to direct adaptations of four more novels by Hrabal: “Larks on a String” [“Skřivánci na niti”, 1969], which fell foul of Communist censors in the wake of the Prague Spring and was not released fully until after the Velvet Revolution; “Cutting It Short” [“Postřižiny”, 1980], a comedy set in a brewery; “The Snowdrop Festival” [“Slavnosti sněženek”, 1984], another rustic tale of village life; and “I Served the King of England” [“Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále”, 2006].

Menzel said of Hrabal: “I always admired in Hrabal the ability to look at people and see them as they truly are, with a truly uncompromising perspective. But still he loved them.”

In 1996, Menzel was awarded a Czech Golden Lion for his lifetime contribution to Czech and Czechoslovak film. His final film was 2013’s “The Don Juans” [“Donšajni”].

Menzel’s “Cutting It Short” will be screened with English subtitles at the Brno Expat Centre on September 17th at 7:30pm. For more information, see the Facebook event.

Brno Daily Subscribe
Sign up for morning news in your mail