Movie night: Night Train (Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1959)

Sunday June 22th 2014, Night Train (Pociag). Directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, 1959, 99 minutes, in Polish with English subtitles. Door opens at 8pm, film begins at 9pm.

Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Night Train begun like a classic Hitchcockian mystery thriller; but, by the time it got over, the tone and theme had subtly shifted towards human drama and even trenchant social critique – and therein lay the charm of this engaging but largely under-watched Polish film.

This is a more amorphous and ambiguous tale than other contemporary films of the Polish School, and Night Train seems to lack the direct references to recent history and the contemporary political situation of the Poland of the 1950s that are a hallmark of the style. However, the Hitchcockian atmosphere, the unimaginably tight shots and the overall sense of claustrophobia and dread evoke the sense of disappointment following in the wake of 1956 and the end of the Polish Spring. All of Kawalerowicz’s films deal with individual fate in a society being crushed by overwhelming external forces, whether war or politics, in an attempt to examine moral choice under pressure. Night Train is no exception, only here he has created an allegory of misfits among a society of passengers, a society that is predictable, suspicious of individuality, and eager to punish. All of Poland escaping though the night to the end of the line. Ironically, the film may represent in its way the end of the Polish School as well.

A mysterious looking man (Leon Niemczyk), who may or may not be a murderer, and a beautiful lady (Lucyna Winnicka) with some troubles of her own – both completely strangers to each other – coincidentally become mates in a tiny first-class cabin on a night train. Obvious sexual sparkles soon start flying, with the situation getting tad more complicated when a frustrated married lady in the adjoining cabin starts making brazen advances to the man. Meanwhile, the compartment is abuzz with the sordid details about a guy who is on the lam after murdering his wife. A fine mix of atmosphere, moodiness and fatalism pervaded the noirish first half – coupled with a jazzy, discordant score, and then the police arrive and take the man into custody. Things then gradually started taking a divergent turn, which ended up adding further dimensions to the tale in this smartly paced and deftly handled movie. The fact that nearly the entire movie took place inside the cramped train compartments added a palpable sense of claustrophobia to the visuals; near the end, in a brief but memorable foot-chase sequence, horde of passengers break free from the prison-like confines of the train, and symbolically, also from their past shackles, only to be back before long – and such cheeky genre-bending moves as this accentuated the director’s wry commentary on post-WWII Polish society.

Film night at Joe’s Garage, warm and cozy cinema! Doors open at 8pm, film begins at 9pm, free entrance. You want to play a movie, let us know: joe [at] squat [dot] net