Oscar-winning Czech filmmaker Jiří Menzel died with COVID-19, reveals widow

Oscar-winning Czech director Jiří Menzel, who passed away in September at the age of 82, had contracted COVID-19 prior to his death, his widow Olga Menzelová revealed to local press earlier today.

The full circumstances of Menzel’s death were not previously disclosed. Menzel had been battling health ailments over the past two years following November 2017 brain surgery, after which he was placed in an artificially-induced coma for multiple months.

“It’s true, [Menzel] succumbed to COVID-19-related pneumonia. His illness began to manifest itself in such a way that he got high temperatures, coughed and was in pain,” Menzelová told Blesk this morning.

Over the past two years, Menzel had battled pneumonia along with various other infections. According to Menzelová, her husband was most likely unknowingly infected with COVID-19 by one of the nurses who cared for him.

“I watched my husband’s death live with COVID-19,” Menzelová added.

“Mentally, it was the most demanding care that Jiří and I experienced. Being dressed from head to toe in a protective suit, glasses, gloves, without the opportunity to kiss him, it was the most depressing time in my life.”

Menzel won an Oscar for his 1966 film Closely Watched Trains, an adaptation of Bohumil Hrabal’s acclaimed novel. Menzel would go on to film numerous adaptations of Hrabal works over the course of his career, the last of which being I Served the King of England in 2006. Menzel’s final feature would ultimately be the 2013 film Donšajni (The Don Juans).

Menzel was also an accomplished actor, his final feature being Martin Šulík’s drama The Interpreter, which was Slovakia’s submission to the Academy Awards in 2018. Filmmaker Robert Kolinsky’s 2017 documentary Jiří Menzel: To Make a Comedy is No Fun covered Menzel’s life and career.

Closely Watched Trains is a quiet, charming, very, human film,” Chicago Sun-Times critic Roger Ebert wrote in a 1968 review of Menzel’s film.

“It comes from Czechoslovakia and isn’t pushy like those big American movies; it will not force its point of view on you, or sweep you up in a tide of emotion. Indeed, if you’re charged up emotionally, you’d better lie down for an hour or two before going to see it. It requires an audience at peace with itself.”

Lead photo: Jiří Menzel in Wiesbaden, Germany in 2016 via Wikimedia / Paul Katzenberger


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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