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  Night Train - Pociag DVD [dv466]
by Store Reviewer Date Added: Wednesday 07 February, 2007
Call it Train of Fools. In Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s masterwork, a crowded night express travels overbooked with the despairing, the lovelorn, the lustful, a handful of priests and a concentration camp survivor. Bound for the Baltic coast, it also carries a wife-murderer fleeing from the police.

Among those boarding the train in the late afternoon sunlight is a tall, good-looking, rather dapper man in sunglasses, Jerzy (Leon Niemczyk), who sweats profusely as he tries to make himself invisible. This of course could be our murderer.

In his desperate need for privacy, Jerzy reminds us of the fugitive Roger Thornhill played by Cary Grant, another tall dapper man, in North by Northwest (1959). Like Cary, the mystery man in Night Train ends up in a sleeping car with a mysterious blonde, but finds a different sort of wrinkle in the sheets. The blonde, Marta, has a bit of the sang-froid about her that might remind you of Eva Marie Sainte, except that she can’t hide the emotional bruising that’s settled in around her eyes. What’s her story? And, in spite of his distractions, Jerzy is instantly attracted to her voluptuous mystery, as she is to his. Why the sweat-soaked armpits in his Arrow shirt? The aura of sexual intrigue brings Night Train in line with other rail journey allegories with mysterious blondes, like von Sternberg’s exquisite Shanghai Express (1932). For a while, in Night Train, the anticipation rides not on who the murderer is, but, as the train settles in for sleep, on when Jerzy and Marta will begin making love.

Kawalerowicz’s film, though released in 1959, has a detached, sixties cool about it. The main theme here is really the spaces between people, the isolation of identity — existential business that Italian masters like Antonioni took on in the following decade. The film’s metaphorical conceit, which presents us a microcosm of suffering humanity, well, that idea goes at least as far back as Grand Hotel (1932).

Night Train was shot in gorgeous black and white, seemingly using mostly ambient light. The elegant framing, which has people disappearing into and emerging from deep shadow, makes for hipster visuals of lonely disconnect. Mostly, though, the shadows seem a bit too dark on this DVD; perhaps the film was shot this way, but I suspect the print, or how it was mastered for video, allows the darks too little detail. Regardless, this film is visually magnificent and mostly well served by this disc.

The score, by Andrej Trzaskowski, is fifties cool jazz, featuring vibes and sax. Woven within the fabric is a female scat vocal, with a lilting, lullaby feel, which is so reminiscent of the wordless vocal that underscored much of Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby (1968) that you wonder if Kawalerowicz’s compatriot may have remembered it and ordered its near likeness for his film.

Polart’s DVD comes with short biographies of the director and its two main stars. From Kawalerowicz’s biography we learn that the director, born in 1922, made a lot of enemies among his Polish peers when, in 1983, he signed a communist document condemning all filmmakers aligned with the Solidarity movement.

By Gordon Thomas

Rating: 4 of 5 Stars! [4 of 5 Stars!]
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