Człowiek na torze | Man on the Tracks [1957]

andrzej-munk-czlowiek-na-torze6/10 | 18.Jan.13
Człowiek na torze | Man on the Tracks

DIRECTOR: Andrzej Munk | WRITERS: Andrzej Munk, Jerzy Stefan Stawiński | CAST: Kazimierz Opaliński, Zygmunt Maciejewski, Zygmunt Zintel, Zygmunt Listkiewicz, Roman Klosowski, Janusz Bylczyński, Joseph Para | Poland

Człowiek na torze is a barely veiled indictment of the oppressiveness and dehumanization of life under the Polish communist regime. A night train in rural Poland strikes and kills a man standing on tracks that are under repair, and it’s quickly discovered that the dead man is Orzechowski, the former engineer of this very train who was recently forced into retirement. When it’s further discovered that the caution light was out that would have indicated the need to reduce speed for this stretch of track, an accident investigation team is assembled to look into the incident. We hear testimony from three people who are politically motivated or personally prejudiced — or at least conflicted in their feelings — against Orzechowski, a imperiously fastidious engineer for 40 years who had chafed under the new substandard practices instituted to meet artificially inflated worker efficiency goals. Although the facts in the case can point to murder, suicide, worker negligence, or sabotage — or some combination of causes — the investigators clearly feel the need for a scapegoat. The screenplay (by Jerzy Stefan Stawiński, who also wrote Kanał and Zezowate szczęście) is perhaps a bit crude but it’s effective, and Andrzej Munk’s directing is workmanlike for the most part and only really shifts out of low gear during the flashbacks when he takes the action and his camera out of the investigation room. A taut film, probably more important historically than aesthetically, but worth seeing.

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