Oscar-winning Czech director Jiri Menzel has died aged 82 after battling serious health issues, his wife says. Menzel won an Academy Award in 1968 for best foreign language film for World War Two drama Closely Watched Trains. He was one of the leading figures in the Czech New Wave cinema during the 1960s alongside One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest director Milos Forman. Menzel was rarely seen in public after brain surgery in 2017. He died on Saturday, his wife Olga Menzelova said. “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,” she wrote on Facebook. Menzel studied film production in Prague, graduating in 1962.
His first feature film Closely Watched Trains was based on a novel by Bohumil Hrabal. Following the film’s Oscar win, Menzel collaborated with the novelist numerous times. Reflecting on the Academy Award win, Menzel said in 2006 that he “had more luck than reason”. “More than all the prizes and medals I received for this movie, I valued the lifelong friendship with Hrabal.”
In 1969, he fell foul of the Communist government which banned his film Larks on a String, another adaptation of a Hrabal novel. The film told the story of characters forced to work in a re-education camp. It was eventually released in 1990 after the fall of the government and went on to win an award at the Berlin International Film Festival that year. In 1987, Menzel received a second Oscar nomination for his film My Sweet Little Village. Aside from his directing work, Menzel also acted in some 80 films and worked as a theatre director. His last film performance was in 2018’s The Interpreter which told the story of a man who seeks revenge on the former SS soldier who killed his parents. During his lifetime, Menzel won a number of international awards including the French Order of Arts and Literature and the Czech lion for lifetime artistic contribution.