If, as David Byrne once suggested, “heaven is a place where nothing ever happens,” then “Rail Yard Blues” is close to Czech nirvana. Among the most dramatically accomplished of the un-feted pics at the recent Finale Plzen fest, this deliberate, contemplative rural ensembler — a genre that never seems to go out of style in this part of the world — is a leading contender to rep the republic at international festivals, arthouses and sell-through.
Based on the acclaimed 2000 stage play by Rachel Lewinski, but opened up for the screen with a painterly eye for the decaying infrastructure of heavy industry, pic unfolds at great leisure in and around a rural train station in Bohemia.
Each morning, stationmaster Antonin Jansky (Jaroslav Ducek) and dispatcher Petr Dvorak (Jiri Vymetal, who resembles Dennis Franz) ride to work together on the train. Indicative of their lives, they pass the same car waiting at the same crossing.
Things are predictable once they arrive, but that doesn’t mean nothing ever happens. They take their tea from Gabina (Milada Jasova) in new cups, and an interior paint job attracts much interest. In a leisurely mosaic of comfortable relationships, various workers and their significant others are introduced and interact in the delicate choreography of life and labor during one hot July.
“What you don’t enjoy today,” someone says, “you won’t have tomorrow.” Those turn out to be prescient words, as a third act tragedy, tinged with absurdity, reminds everyone that life is precious, no matter how routine it becomes.
Making seamless helming debuts, Pavel Goebl and Roman Svejda evince an innate respect for, and understanding of, material that, in less sympathetic hands, wouldn’t play with such focus. Difference between this and the retro-styled, self-conscious eccentricity of such other recent Czech work as “Hrubes and Mares, Friends Come Rain or Shine” and “Over and Over” is that these characters are quiet, relatively normal citizens trying to carve out some personal space in the rut of routine. Faced with the prospect of change, a laugh and a shrug greets the inevitable.
Cast is strong, comfortably inhabiting these simple, flawed but centered people. Even Dusek, who can be flamboyant, fades marvelously into the fabric of the whole.
Tech credits are quietly first-rate, led by the perfectly framed widescreen lensing of debuting d.p. Jan Horacek and Antonin Veselka’s plaintive, benevolent score. Original title is, literally, “I also live with a hanger, flyswatter and cap.” “Placackou” can mean either “flyswatter” or thelow-tech stop/go signaling device used on train platforms. Pre-release English moniker was “Still Living.”