© Filmové studio Barrandov

RAILMARKET.com recommends movies with railway themes for cozy winter nights. Enjoy the excitement of train travel in the comfort of your own home.

“Calamity” (1980), directed by groundbreaking Czech filmmaker Věra Chytilová, is a film that stands out for its unique narrative style and the critical lens it applies to human behavior and societal norms. Known for her contributions to the Czech New Wave movement, Chytilová crafts a narrative in Calamity that interweaves human folly with the absurdity of everyday life. Cinematographer Ivan Šlapeta and editor Jiří Brožek are largely responsible for the film's nervous, provocatively unkempt look. 

A young man, Honza Dostál (Bolek Polívka), quits his university studies of his own free will to finally find a real job. He joins the railway to become a train driver. In the first few weeks of his "real life", he experiences a series of small personal disasters with almost everyone he meets, but especially with three strange women: an amateur sledge racer, Majka, a chief surgeon, and a goofy conductor, Květa. But this is nothing compared to when, on his first solo train journey, he gets stuck in a snowdrift and then under a collapsed mass of snow.

© Filmové studio Barrandov
© Filmové studio Barrandov

Chytilová, whose father owned a railway station restaurant, created an authentically impressive work full of anti-regime, double-meaning "catchphrases". In addition, not only the hero Honza Dostál, but also several other characters find themselves in a "catastrophic" situation, which in the final scene on the snow-covered train is revealed to be a common - society-wide - problem.

Behind-the-scenes facts:

  • The final scene, when the avalanche hits the train, was not shot in one continuous take. Before it was finished, another of the bans came in, so the scene had to be shot in summer and fire-fighting foam was used instead of snow.
  • The interiors of the sunken train were filmed on a modified train roof made up of 10 chimneys to vent the lighting lamps in the passenger compartment, as the incandescent bulbs were not enough for the filmmakers, and inside they lit halogens which overheated the air.
  • Due to the regulations that are still in force today, all the scenes in which Bolek Polívka drives the train were solved by Věra Chytilová using a simple trick: either the train was pulled by another train and he held the steering wheel in his hands, or, if the shot did not allow otherwise, he sat in the driver's seat, but the hands belonged to one of the experienced railwaymen who took part in the shooting.
  • The locomotive in which the protagonist gets stuck on the track is a type M 131.1, nicknamed "Hurvínek".
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