Editorial: Night Train and a Rear Window-like Microcosm of Human Experiences

Night Train, 1959. Zespól Filmowy “Kadr”


The Editorial: thoughts, short stories
or essays about the world of cinema

Atmospheric jazz music plays on the opening scene that shows us the animated entrance to a railway station. Where are they going? What are their stories? Why hadn’t it occurred to me before that jazz music goes with train journeys? It’s not an up-beat, jaunty music, it’s not romantic either, but a moody and reflective theme, Moon Ray (originally Artie Shaw’s) sung by Polish jazz singer and composer Wanda Warska, hauntingly recurring throughout the film. A train on the move, during a long trip (this one making the journey between Łódź and the Baltic resort of Hel), is the right setting that, on the background of the rhythmically speeding rail cars, affords you the unique chance of being a passenger in your own life and also a spectator at the world. What has been, what will be, how we imagine what could have been, what might be, what we want it to be.

Night Train (Pociag), 1959, directed by Jerzy Kawalerowicz, is a noirish psychological story that reveals a microcosm of human experiences. In fact, the confined setting, an element of suspense (the possibility of a murderer being among the passengers) and the fact that all the stories unfolding have as common denominator some aspect of love unequivocally reminded me of Rear Window, Hitchcock’s brilliantly, purely cinematic film, where James Stewart is confined to his chair, thus at the same time willingly and unwillingly becoming a spectator looking at the people living across the courtyard. The court yard however “conveys an image of the world”, as François Truffaut remarked. “It shows every kind of human behavior – a real index of individual behavior,” Hitchcock agreed. “The picture would have been very dull if we hadn’t done that. What you see across the way is a group of little stories that, as you say, mirror a small universe.”

Night Train, 1959. Zespól Filmowy “Kadr”

And all those little stories involve some aspect of love. In Night Train, we, the spectators, play James Stewart, peering into the lives of the passengers. And in Night Train, too, everything we see has a bearing of love. There is the coquettish wife who is bored with her ignoring husband and openly flirts with every available man, there are the man train conductor and the woman train conductor who are conservatively attentive to one another and pay each other nice compliments, there is a young navy man and a teenage girl who shyly throw glances at each other, there is the couple in love whom we only see at the beginning of the film when they board the train and then we forget about them and are only reminded of their presence when the controller rushes them out of the train after they reach the destination because they have overslept, having not left their compartment during the trip, there is the confirmed, cynical bachelor, who makes a remark about women, too, saying that he is better off without them, and even the murderer on the run is wanted for killing his wife, a crime of passion.

Night Train, 1959. Zespól Filmowy “Kadr”

And there are of course the two main characters, accidentally travelling together in the same sleeping car, she a woman with a past (one of her suitor’s is also on the train), he shielding away from something, both lonesome and unhappy, who have the courage to talk about their most hidden thoughts only because they are strangers to one another, unlikely to ever see each other again. Their elegance – Lucyna Winnika’s ice cool Hitchcockian blonde Marta in her off-the-shoulders black top and full checkered skirt, standing out from the crowd, Leon Niemczyk’s Jerzy arriving with his dark sunglasses on, very Cary Grant in North by Northwest-like, suit, white shirt and knitted tie in place – along with their loneliness and unhappiness could have played as a catalyzer for their binding. The fact that they are not, and on the evocative jazz sound, brings the film’s subtle examination of solitude to a striking effect. Each one of these characters is a display of human frailty, each one of them is in pursuit of happiness, each one of them has some notion of some semblance of happiness, but for each one of them happiness remains out of reach for the time being. The final shot is of the empty sleeping car, still messy after the passengers have left, the wind blowing through the open window, nobody in sight, on the sound of the recurring musical theme.


Identity as an Illusion: Alain Delon in Mr. Klein

Creating a new visual reality: Interview with Katherine Lam

The Nest: In Conversation with costume designer Matthew Price

This entry was posted in Editorial, Film . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.