director Jerzy Kawalerowicz
After reading an article on The Guardian‘s website by Alexei Sayle about Polish cinema releases, I queued up Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s 1959 film Night Train to fill a gap in my cinema experience. Outside of a handful of films by Krzysztof Kieślowski, I don’t know if I’d ever seen any other Polish films, though I was aware that there were some great films from this period.
Night Train is pretty awesome. Shot largely in the claustrophobia confines of a train, characters squeeze past one another, bump around, are thrown together in a noirish universe. There is a murderer onboard, a man who has just killed his wife (but no one really knows who it is) or that he’s even onboard until the police stop the train in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere and try to subdue him. It’s not a suspense film in the Hitchcockian sense, though one could easily imagine Hitchcock truly enjoying this film. The story and characterization are such that it’s not really clear who anyone is, as everyone seems to be harboring secrets and a desire for escape.
The main characters are Jerzy (Leon Niemczyk) and Marta (Lucyna Winnicka), strangers who wind up sharing a sleeping compartment despite their desires to be alone. Marta is trying to escape from a smitten stalker who is also on the train but in a cheaper carriage. Jerzy is mysterious about his desire to be alone (could he be the killer?)
When the police pursue the killer from the train (with most of the other passengers on his heels), they chase him to a dark cemetery where they savage him. It’s an eerie sequence with tombstones stark against the sky amid the darkness of the open nighttime landscape.
The film has such visual verve and as it’s so full of existential loneliness, these many passengers, so pressed together upon one another, strangers upon strangers, still all are very alone. Very cool film. Very cool indeed.