A 1959 film by Jerzy Kawalerowicz.
Lucyna Winnicka and Leon Niemczyk in the film "Pociąg", dir. Jerzy Kawalerowicz, photo: East News / Polfilm
Jerzy (Leon Niemczyk) meets Marta (Lucyna Winnicka) in a train running from the Hel peninsula to Warsaw. Most of the seats in the train are occupied, which forces the two to travel in one compartment. Both Jerzy and Marta would prefer to travel alone, but after a certain time the two 40-year-olds start to talk with each other. Marta’s bluntness and beauty fascinate the man journeying with her. He is seductively mysterious. She has lived through an emotional drama, he – a professional surgeon – can’t cope with the death of one of his patients. A whole gallery of supporting characters rides on the titular train: an unpleasant conductor, Staszek (Zbigniew Cybulski), who is in love with Marta, an old lawyer with his coquettish wife, a flirtatious train manager and a priest. When the travellers learn that the culprit of an infamous murder is probably on the train, the search for the guilty party begins.
This film tells about hunger, about the longing for feelings, not necessarily for love. The girl has a hunger for life, the man – because of her – starts to feel lonely. Everybody is in a certain sense unhappy with what they have, people want to have ways out, some unclear perspectives. All of the characters of Pociąg (Night Train) feel this longing. It is as if a single melodrama was split so that it could concern many characters – Jerzy Kawalerowicz said of his film many years ago.
"The idea for the movie’s script originated from an adventure I had during a train ride from Warsaw to Szczecin. I found myself in a situation in which the tickets for the sitting places were sold out. The conductor directed me to a compartment that seemed to be empty. The owner of the ticket for the place that I took showed up at the last moment, after I had already made myself comfortable. A strange night began – I talked for hours with that lady. She told me about her life. I listened and hardly said anything about myself. That was how the idea for the film “Train” was born” – the director told Bartosz Michalak and Łukasz Figielski, the authors of the book Prywatna historia kina polskiego (A Private Story of Polish Cinema).
Kawalerowicz told this story to one of his closest collaborators, Jan Lutowski, who was also the prospective cinematographer of Pociąg. The trivial scene became the base of a 90-minute-long film. Many years after the movie was made, the director’s wife, Lucyna Winnicka, who played the part of Marta, said: “The title train became a metaphor of our life path, which leads from one place to another."
Long after the film was created the director himself reminisced about how his picture was received: “Pociąg greatly surprised the filmmaking executives. It was unlike anything else. It wasn’t neorealistic, it didn’t resemble the classic Russian, at that time Soviet, works, where the bringing up of every issue had to be justified in some way. Pociąg was, I don’t know… an out-of-the-blue story. I think that this is a strong point of this movie: the picture doesn’t revolve around war memories, it’s a purely human affair”.
The critics wrote about “a virtuosic realisation”, “acute psychological portraits of characters” and “giving universal meaning to trivial events”. Pociąg was said to be nobly influenced by neorealism and the style of storytelling characteristic of the French New Wave films, which were preceded by the 1959 Polish film. The actors were also praised: Zbigniew Cybulski, an actor who was a symbol of his times, the reserved Leon Niemczyk and Lucyna Winnicka, who played one of the best roles of her life in Pociąg. In 1960 Kawalerowicz’s picture won a Golden Duck for best Polish film. A year earlier, at the International Film Festival in Venice Lucyna Winnicka received a special distinction for best actress.
Audiences were intrigued with the non-obvious way in which Kawalerowicz’s film addressed the issue of fault and punishment and with the moral ambiguousness of the film. The picture is an original portrayal of society in miniature, which is similar to the portrayal that may be found in Tadeusz Konwicki’s 1963 novel Sennik Współczesny (Contemporary Dream Book) and in the 1965 film adaptation of this book which is entitled Salto (Somersault). It is worth mentioning that Konwicki was one of Kawalerowicz’s closest collaborators. “Pociąg” presents a vision that isn’t very optimistic - the group of humans is characterized chiefly by cruelty and aggressive thoughtlessness which grows in the presence of a crowd.
- Pociąg (Night Train), 1959 r. Directed by: Jerzy Kawalerowicz, Screenplay: Jerzy Lutowski, Jerzy Kawalerowicz. Director of Photography: Jan Laskowski, Scenery: Ryszard Potocki, Costumes: Michelle Zahorska, Musical Arrangement: Andrzej Trzaskowski, Sound: Józef Bartczak, Edited by: Wiesława Otocka. Production: the Kadr Film Studio. Cast: Lucyna Winnicka (Marta), Leon Niemczyk (doctor), Teresa Szmigielówna (lawyer’s wife), Zbigniew Cybulski (Staszek), Helena Dąbrowska (conductor), Ignacy Machowski (sleeping car passenger), Roland Głowacki (murderer), Aleksander Sewruk (lawyer), Zygmunt Zintel (insomniac passenger), Tadeusz Gwiazdowski (conductor), Witold Skaruch (priest).
Sources: Film Polski, Prywatna historia kina polskiego (A Private Story of Polish Cinema) Bartosz Michalak, Łukasz Figielski, słowo/obraz terytoria, Gdańsk 2005.
Author: BS, January 2013.
Translated by: Marek Kępa