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Oscar-winning Czech director Jiri Menzel dies at age 82

PRAGUE (Reuters) - Influential Czech director Jiri Menzel, whose 1966 movie “Closely Watched Trains” won the Academy Award for best foreign-language film, has died at age 82, his wife, Olga Menzelova, said on her Facebook page.

FILE PHOTO: Director Jiri Menzel poses during a photocall to promote the film 'I Served The King Of England' running in competition at the 57th Berlinale International Film Festival in Berlin, Germany February 16, 2007. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz/File Photo

Menzel was part of the Czech New Wave of filmmakers of the 1960s that included “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus” director Milos Forman and avant-garde director Vera Chytilova.

He struggled with serious health problems and rarely appeared in public after brain surgery in 2017.

“Dearest Jirka, I thank you for each and single day I could spend with you. Each was extraordinary. I am also grateful to you for the last three years, as hard as they were,” his wife wrote in her post.

She said Menzel died at home on Saturday.

Menzel gained fame for “Closely Watched Trains,” the coming-of-age story of a young train dispatcher in German-occupied Czechoslovakia during World War Two.

It was based on a novel by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabal, whose works were a source of other Menzel films, including “I Served the King of England” in 2006.

“I had more luck than reason,” he said in 2016, recalling his Oscar-winning movie. “More than all the prizes and medals I received for this movie, I valued the lifelong friendship with Hrabal.”

Like other directors of his generation, Menzel faced problems with Communist authorities.

His 1969 film, “Larks on a String,” depicting a group of politically persecuted people forced to work in a scrapyard, was not shown in his home country until 1990.

It went on to win the Golden Bear at the Berlin International Film Festival in 1990.

Menzel excelled in bittersweet depictions of life, with doses of humour and nostalgia. Many of his works are revered among Czech audiences.

Menzel’s 1985 film, “My Sweet Little Village,” was nominated for an Oscar and a number of his other movies have become classics for Czech film watchers and directors.

Menzel also acted in dozens of movies and plays. A bachelor late into life, he and Menzelova, a film producer, married in 2004.

“I thank him for everything he did for us. Goodbye, sir!” film director Jan Hrebejk, who was nominated for an Oscar for his 2000 film, “Divided We Fall,” wrote on Twitter.

Reporting by Jason Hovet and Jan Lopatka; Editing by Frances Kerry and Peter Cooney

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