[Film Review] Night Train (1959)

Night Train poster

English Title: Night Train
Original Title: Pociag
Year: 1959
Country: Poland
Language: Polish
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Writers:
Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Jerzy Lutowski
Music: Andrzej Trzaskowski
Cinematography: Jan Laskowski
Cast:
Lucyna Winnicka
Leon Niemczyk
Teresa Szmigielówna
Zbigniew Cybulski
Helena Dabrowska
Aleksander Sewruk
Zygmunt Zintel
Tadeusz Gwiazdowski
Roland Glowacki
Michal Gazda
Ignacy Machowski
Witold Skaruch
Barbara Horawianka
Rating: 8.0/10

Night Train 1959

Polish film is not a regular staple on my selection, which is a great remiss of me and surely will change after this one, from one of the leading maestros of Polish cinema school, it is my first encounter with Kawalerowicz, NIGHT TRAIN ostensibly is a Hitchcockian mystery with a beguiling noir sheen for the first glance, yet soon viewers will notice there is no McGuffin employed in the story except a promise that a murderer is at large, Kawalerowicz doesn’t sink to atmospheric suspense to keep audience hooked in its narrative, and steers us through an overnight journey on a sleeping train where strangers shelter hidden agenda within a confined space.

After the opening bird’s-eye view of the flowing stream of passengers, our protagonist Jerzy (Niemczyk) is introduced in a foreshadowing surreptitious fashion among sundry other passengers, sporting shades, suspiciously requiring a first-class berth with two bunks for himself only, it promptly arouses our suspicion there must be something fishy about him. So is a mysterious and beautiful woman, later we know her name is Marta (Winnicka), with whom eventually Jerzy will share the berth, after the initial resistance. Now we have our femme fatale, and a newspaper article about a fleeing murder suspect also duly arrives, so a compelling film noir beckons.

However, once various characters are shoehorned into the limited space, their interactions are more interesting for Kawalerowicz, Jerzy is pestered by a young wife (Szmigielówna) who has married to a much older and duller lawyer husband, and obviously is looking for any possibility of adultery, but he shows his courtesy in spite that his interest leans more toward Marta, the latter is also being badgered by Staszek (Cybulski), a young man she jilts as the different classes of their compartments connote the destiny.

The theatrical highlight turns up when Jerzy is arrested by police who identify him as the said murder suspect, which apparently justifies our ongoing impression of him, well-groomed but is running away from something shady, it is Kawalerowicz’s mastery to infuse these false impressions on us, which effectively anticipates the twist in the middle, when Marta becomes a significant witness to expose the real murderer. The chasing sequences are imbued with symbolic gravitas where a cemetery is coincidentally at hand. And the passengers’ collective endeavor rings stridently of how an individual can inadvertently lose oneself in the impulsion of being an executioner under the spur of self-acclaimed justice, even the receiving end is an alleged but defenceless murderer, Kawalerowicz overtly makes his stand clear.

After that dramatic interlude, the film goes on as the train keeps heading to its destination, a coastal area for vacation, Jerzy and Marta finally reveal their real purpose of the journey. When the train stops, they must get off and continue their respect paths, their budding romance is nipped off by Jerzy’s farewell gesture, they remain strangers who actually don’t know each other’s names. The ending, which is seen from the eyes of the female train conductor (Dabrowska), offers an objective view from someone who is way too familiar with the scenario and magically breathe out a poetic empathy.

The two leads, Leon Niemczyk dependably conforms to his suave and impenetrable facades whereas Lucyna Winnicka stuns in her photogenic elegance and thanks to the singular flair added by monochrome, she sublimates into a symbol of ethereality we can never achieve in reality. NIGHT TRAIN is such an exceptional film defies our expectation and a phenomenal curio affirmatively raises our awareness of how awesome a Polish classic can be!

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