PRAGUE (AP) – Jiri Menzel, a Czech director whose 1966 film “Closely Watched Trains” won the Academy Award for best film in a foreign language, has passed away. He was 82.
Menzel’s wife, Olga, announced his death Sunday evening, saying he died the previous day. No details were given. Three years ago, Menzel underwent brain surgery and was then kept in an artificially induced coma for several weeks.
“Dear Jirka, I thank you for every day I could spend with you. They were all extraordinary, ”his wife said on Facebook.
Menzel made some twenty films and was one of the leading filmmakers of the new wave of Czechoslovak cinema that emerged in the 1960s. His films represented a radical departure from socialist realism, a typical communist-era genre aimed at realistically depicting the struggles of the working class.
Unlike colleagues like Milos Forman, Jan Nemec and Ivan Passer, Menzel did not emigrate after the Soviet Union-led invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
“Closely Viewed Trains” was his first feature. Based on a novel by Czech author Bohumil Hrabal, it tells the story of a dispatcher’s apprentice who comes of age at a small train station during the Nazi occupation in World War II.
His next collaboration with Hrabal, “Larks on a String” in 1969, was another tragicomic description of life under a totalitarian regime, this time under communism.
The film was immediately banned by the communist authorities. After the anti-communist revolution of 1989 led by Vaclav Havel, it won the Golden Bear Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival.
Menzel’s other adaptations of Hrabal’s work include “Cutting It Short” (1980), “The Snowdrop Festival” (1984) and “I serve the King of England” (2006).
His 1985 comedy “My Sweet Little Village” was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
He graduated from the Prague Academy of Performing Arts in 1962 and was also known for directing plays and also as an actor.
Menzel received the French Order of Art and Literature, among others.