Oscar-winning Czech film director Jiří Menzel passes away at age 82

Menzel's film Closely Watched Trains won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film in 1967

ČTK

Written by ČTK
Published on 07.09.2020 08:28 (updated on 07.09.2020)

Prague, Sept 7 (CTK) – Oscar-winning film director Jiří Menzel died on Saturday evening aged 82, his wife Olga Menzelova wrote on Facebook late on Sunday. Menzel’s assistant Mila Radova confirmed the information to CTK.

Menzel suffered from serious health troubles in recent years. In 2017, he underwent a demanding head surgery and stayed in induced sleep for several weeks afterwards.

He made about 20 films as director and featured in many films as an actor. His film Closely Watched Trains (Ostře sledované vlaky), based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal, won the Oscar for best foreign language film in 1967.

Menzel’s last film as director was The Don Juans (Donšajni, 2013) and the last film he starred in was The Interpreter (Tlumočník), a Slovak-Czech-Austrian coproduction project finished in 2018 but shot earlier, before Menzel’s aforementioned surgery.

Menzel did not appear in public in the past three years.

“In my life, I always had more luck than sense,” Menzel said when referring to the Closely Watched Trains in 2016.

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He said as a beginning film-maker he was lucky to receive the offer to make the film, and was also lucky that as the director he was surrounded by a crew without whom the film could not have been a success.

“More than the prizes and medals I won for the film, I appreciated my life-long friendship with Bohumil Hrabal,” he said.

A large part of Menzel’s work as a filmmaker was linked to the work of Hrabal (1914-1997). One of Menzel’s very first films, Pearls of the Deep (Perličky na dně, 1965) was made after Hrabal’s book of stories. Menzel made the film together with several fellow film directors of the Czechoslovak New Wave.

Other films Menzel made from Hrabal’s works are Larks on the String (Skřivánci na niti, 1969), Cutting it Short (Postřižiny, 1980), The Snowdrop Festival (Slavnosti sněženek, 1984) and I Served the King of England (Obsluhoval jsem anglického krále, 2006).

Menzel also shot films after the works of another Czech author, Vladislav Vančura – Capricious Summer (Rozmarné léto, 1968) and End of Old Times (Konec starých časů, 1989).

On other films he cooperated with script-writing tandem Zdeněk Svěrák and Ladislav Smoljak, making together Seclusion Near a Forest (Na samotě u lesa, 1976) and My Sweet Little Village (Vesničko má středisková), which was nominated for Oscar in 1985.

Menzel was also a successful theater director and taught at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) in Prague.