Night Train is definitely one of the greatest, and at the same time, one of the most under-appreciated movies in the history of Polish cinema. Jerzy Kawalerowicz is a true master craftsman in the country’s film world, and with this picture he once again proved that this statement is perfectly true. It’s a shame that the movie is often cruelly omitted when talking about fine post-war cinema, because it is certainly worth a watch.
Night Train is different from other various Polish movies that came out in the 50’s and later, as it doesn’t present the social problems that the country had to fight with during the difficult period of Communism.
It reminds me of the movies directed by the Master of Suspense, Sir Alfred Hitchcock, as it contains the recurring themes of murder, suspenseful mystery, the wrongly accused man and a search for the real criminal.
It also reminds me of the great noir movies produced in the United States or Italy throughout the 20th century. It possesses a deeply sombre tone and claustrophobic ambiance created by the particular scenery, in which it takes place – a train. All of this is complemented with an eerie music playing in the background.
Aboard the train, which goes from Lodz to the seaside in Poland, there are many unusual, strangely mysterious, and overly suspicious passengers. One of them is Jerzy, the main character, played brilliantly by Leon Niemczyk. Strolling around in his classy dark glasses he seems like he needs to hide from something or someone. Unfortunately, due to some peculiar circumstances, he has to share the sleeping cabin with a pretty lady, Marta. However, as time passes by, the two start to have to connect on a deeply personal level, because of the seemingly similar life experiences and peculiar interests.
In the neighboring compartment rests an unnamed man with his nosy and bored wife, who quickly starts to flirt with the distracted Jerzy. She seems so unhappily married that – in order to get a glimpse of the undiscovered – she resolves to flirting with almost all of the co-travelers.
Then there is also Staszek, the boy, who is deeply in love with Marta, but, due to some unmentioned previous occurrences, she doesn’t want to be with him any more. He struggles to gain her attention, yet incompetently.
All those characters’ affairs intertwine at various points in the storyline. Down-to-earth and clever dialogues accompany every scene. And in the middle of it all there is the tranquil search for the murderer. However, as important as it may seem sometimes, it isn’t actually the main topic of Night Train.
The hunt for the killer occurs in the climax of the movie, when an angry mob runs through the train cars and into the woods to finally catch him. What happens next – the public execution (however not deadly) reminded me of the great American western The Ox-Bow Incident. Both those films account for the controversial notion, which so ostentatiously insists the will of the majority must always win, no matter if someone is found guilty legally or not.
The final scene beautifully reflects on what had happened that one strange night – the compartments are empty, and look somehow pure, but the scattered belongings and open windows give the sequence an obscure touch of impurity..
All in all, Night Train is truly a fantastic Polish movie with many suspenseful twists in its storyline, covert romance overtone and a huge emphasis put on the evaluation of personalities of recurring characters, in order to show that anonymity is omnipresent in the human world, and everyone can actually hide in its shadow if they want to.