Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema

night train

There are many revelations in the ‘Masterpieces of Polish Cinema’ series and whether you’re familiar with some of these films or not, it’s an incredible opportunity to discover for yourself the great power of Polish cinema, on the big screen in brilliantly restored digital masters.” – Martin Scorsese

The identity of a murderer is constantly in question in Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Night Train and yet the mystery is never the filmmakers’ primary interest. A thriller that begins with Hithcockian intent before subtly changing gears toward human drama, Night Train unfolds over the course of an overnight train, heading toward the coast. A mysterious looking man (Leon Niemzyk) and a troubled young woman (Lucyna Winnicka) board the train separately, but by pure coincidence find themselves occupying the same First Class cabin. The immediate sexual chemistry is evident, although things become murky when a married First Class passenger begins to make advances toward the man, while the woman’s ex-lover (played by Zbigniew Cybulski – an omnipresent figure in ACMI’s showcase) relentlessly and intimidatingly ventures to woo her back.

There’s a restful manner in which Kawalerowicz divulges information and propels narrative, not unlike the way in which Andrzej Wajda approached Ashes and Diamonds, another film that played out over the course of a night and exploited the cryptic atmosphere in post-War Poland. The filmmaker exploits the minimal locations and nominal plot to great effect, conveying the natural claustrophobia of an overnight train wonderfully. We discover early on in the film that a murderer may be on the loose, and immediately suspect that it’s no coincidence. The beauty of Night Train is that the culprit could be anyone, but more importantly is that the murder and the identity of the murder is just an accessory to the compelling and enigmatic human drama.

Curiously, there’s an undercurrent regarding aggression between the sexes. Male passengers violently ogle the women, despite the evident uncomfortable atmosphere that it creates. Cybulski’s character is concerning in his pursuit for his ex-lover, clearly struggling to maintain composure when his naturally belligerent tendencies boil over. A lawyer shows an astonishing degree of disinterest while his beautiful wife undresses in front of him. A woman doggedly flirts with a man whose concerns are clearly elsewhere. Gender relations are at the forefront of Kawalerowicz’s mind, the inherently suffocating nature of the train fuelling the tensions. Most compelling about Night Train is that it all stays just beneath the surface.

Night Train is playing as part of ACMI’s Martin Scorsese Presents: Masterpieces of Polish Cinema from Sunday 5 October to Sunday 26 October 2014.

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