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Poland 1959
Directed by
Jerzy Kawalerowicz
100 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Night Train

Two strangers, Jerzy (Leon Niemczyk) and Marta (Lucyna Winnicka) end up in the same sleeping cabin on an overnight train full of holiday-makers headed to the Baltic Sea coast. Also on board is Marta's erstwhile paramour, Staszek (Zbigniew Cybulski), who is trying to persuade her that they should get back together but she yearns for another. Then the police board the train in search of a murderer on the run and arrest Jerzy.

Kawalerowicz uses the train much as the ship is often used – as a symbolic microcosm of human society. This is alluded to in the brilliant opening overhead shot of a milling crowd over which the opening titles are played, a perspective returned to late in the film when the murderer is caught.

In between, the film serves as a portrait of contemporary Polish society, one which no doubt would have had more resonance for a domestic audience of the time that it has today (particularly the Christological symbology in the graveyard late in the film). In general it is far from flattering, culminating in a quite amazing sequence in which the passengers pursue the fleeing murderer,much like hounds pursue the fox, a herd-like assertion of their probity. Running through this is the story of the 3 leads, Jerzy, Marta and Staszek in what is an equally gloomy view of love.  As is typical of Polish film of the period it is beautifully shot in black and white and is abetted by a cool jazz score,

FYI: Staszek is warned by the conductor on a couple of occasions about jumping aboard the moving train.  Cybulski died in a 1967 when he slipped running to catch a train and was crushed.

The film was remade with the same title in 2009 with Danny Glover, Leelee Sobieski and Steve Zahn.and went straight to video.




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