Friday 9 November 2012

Night Train (Pociag) [1959]

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.  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.

Director: Jerzy Kawalerowicz
Genre: Thriller/Psychological Thriller/Mystery
Language: Polish
Country: Poland


Sam Juliano said...

This is an acute sense of claustrophobia that contributes to the tension, and it made me think of Polanski's KNIFE IN THE WATER. Great that you mentioned that dissonant, jazzy score and the fatalist underpinning. A much underrated work, and a fabulous review in support.

Shubhajit said...

Thanks a lot Sam. Yeah, the deep & engulfing sense of claustrophobia further accentuated its sense of doom & fatalism. Yet another psychologically arresting film from Poland, a country renowned small but excellent outputs in terms of cinema - like other East European countries (Hungary, Czech Rep, Romania et al).