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On the big screen, he gave life to works by Hrabal, Vančura or Svěrák.

Ocar-winning director and actor Jiří Menzel would have celebrated his 83rd birthday today

Barbora Mikešová
23.Feb 2021
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3 minutes
Jiří Menzel, Ostře sledované vlaky

Last year we had to say goodbye to a legendary director, Jiří Menzel. A man who has directed many successful Czech and Czechoslovak films during his life. For some, he subsequently received the award he deserved, be it the Czech Lion or the prestigious Oscar.

A man who had directing in his genes

Jiří Menzel had directing in his genes. He was born on February 23, 1938 into the family of Josef Menzel, a writer, publicist and animation filmmaker. Jiří Menzel dedicated his years of study to the Prague Film and Television Faculty, from which he also successfully graduated in 1962.

He gained his fans and admirers from among the audiences and experts thanks to many of his films. Already at the beginning of his career, three years after graduating, he became interested in the short story anthology film Pearls of the Deep, where he took over the direction of Hrabal's short story The Death of Mr. Baltazar. During his life, Jiří Menzel gave visual form to many novels, which, together with experts, was enjoyed not only by Bohumil Hrabal, but also Vladislav Vančura and Zdeněk Svěrák. To this day, the director's film adaptations, such as Closely Watched Trains, Cutting it Short or Capricious Summer are very popular and sought after by viewers.

Prodej exkluzivní vily, Praha 4 - Kunratice
Prodej exkluzivní vily, Praha 4 - Kunratice, Praha 4

Wife and two daughters

For a long time, the director was talked about as a bachelor. That changed in 2004, when he married Olga Kelymanová, a graduate of DAMU. A few years after the wedding, in 2008, their daughter Anna Karolína was born, whose biological father is the director Jaroslav Brabec. A few years later, their second daughter, Eva Maria, was born, whose biological father is the director himself.

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Olga Menzelová, Jiří Menzel, dcery Eva Maria a Anna Karolína
Olga Menzelová, Jiří Menzel, dcery Eva Maria a Anna KarolínaSource:

He turned the film Closely Watched Trains into an Oscar

For many film fans, Jiří Menzel is inextricably linked with the feature film Closely Watched Trains from 1966. For this movie, he received the highest award that can be obtained - the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. In the film, he not only made himself famous as a man of great directorial talent, but he made the writer of the original book famous too. This was none other than Bohumil Hrabal.

Director of many of Hrabal's works

In addition to Closely Watched Trains, he also took over adapting Hrabal's other works. Thanks to the director, the well-known Cutting it Short (1980), the all-beloved The Snowdrop Festival (1983), but also Larks on a String (1969), the already mentioned short story anthology film Pearls from the Deep (1965) and the feature film I Served the King of England (2006).

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Jiří Menzel
Jiří MenzelSource:

He gave a visual form to Zdeněk Svěrák's screenplays and Vladislav Vančura's novels

It is important to note that Jiří Menzel wasn't just the court director of Bohumil Hrabal. He gave a visual form to Vladislav Vančura's novels, namely the film The End of Old Times (1989) and the popular film Capricious Summer (1967). Jiří Menzel also collaborated with Zdeněk Svěrák and, based on his screenplays, created film hits such as Seclusion Near a Forest (1976) or one of the best comedy films of the time, My Sweet Little Village (1985). He was once again nominated for an Oscar with the film My Sweet Little Village, but this time he did not win the golden figure.

The Academy Award, Golden Bear, Czech Lion

During his life, Jiří Menzel won several different awards. In addition to the Academy Award for Closely Watched Trains, he was awarded the Golden Bear for his film Larks on a Thread at the Berlinale International Film Festival in 1990 in Berlin. A few years later, specifically in 1996, he also won the Czech Lion and in 2003 at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, he received a lifetime achievement award.

He spent the last moments of his life surrounded by his loved ones

Jiří Menzel died on September 5, 2020. In the second half of 2017, he was hospitalized with a brain infection, underwent complicated brain surgery and remained in a medically induced coma. After a treatment lasting several months, he was released home to his wife and daughters, with whom he remained until the last moment.

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Panelová výstava Jiřího Menzela
Panelová výstava Jiřího MenzelaSource: archiv

Farewell to the Oscar-winning director

His wife Olga informed about his death through social media. The last goodbye took place in a family setting and, at the urging of the public and the director's friends, his wife Olga also organized a tribute in the Prague Rudolfinum. Before the last farewell, people could see the panel exhibition The Capricious Years of Jiří Menzel, which was set up around the lawns in front of Rudolfinum.

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Pietní místo s kondolenční knihou
Pietní místo s kondolenční knihouSource: archiv

Olga Menzelová lived a free life with the already deceased Oscar-winning director. About two years ago, the director's wife became the mother of her third child, Albert, whose father is the Egyptologist Miroslav Bárta.

And as the famous director himself once said:

"Every person has their knowledge of their own truth, their reasons, their roots, but that does not entitle them to seek a reason for hatred in another person's truth."

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