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TRAIN WITHOUT A TIMETABLE

Yugoslavia, 1959 (MIFF 1960, Programme 20)

Director: Veljko Bulajic

In the spring of 1946 a great migration of landless peasants took place in Yugoslavia, organised by the government; a movement from the arid, rocky areas to the fertile plains of Voyvodina. Owing to the acute shortage of passenger trains, people travelled in freight cars, together with what few animals they owned and odds and ends of household and personal belongings. The trains moved slowly to no fixed timetable, making frequent stops along the route. One such train is the subject of this film and during the slow journey we get to know a group of people very well: Mother Brikota and three of her four sons (the fourth having refused to leave on what he feels is a stupid gamble), the eldest of whom is the leader of the group, Lovre by name, an ex-soldier wounded in the war, the next Duje, not long married, with his wife Zeka expecting her first baby, and the youngest, Peso, a boy of eighteen. There is Ika, a young widow with her two small boys; Jole, who feels that modern ways, in spite of electricity and machinery, are a poor substitute for tradition, and his wife and daughter; Venka, a girl ex-partisan; Nikolica, young, good-looking, restless, a friend of Peso and also an ex-serviceman; and many others who are going, some full of doubt, some hopefully, to what is virtually a new world.

This film of the peasant's odyssey, with its leisurely unfolding love stories, is full of the harsh simplicity and warm brightness of the people. Bulajic's direction has a firm authority and shows clearly the influence of the Italian neo-realists. The few cliches - the oldest member of the party dying and the new baby being born as the promised land is reached, the breaking down of traditions by the young lovers, the kissing of the rich earth by the land-hungry peasants - are here acceptable because everything is handled with such sincerity, and because the acting is very good, even vigorous. Ivica Pajer's interpretation of the role of Nikolica is outstanding. See his drunk scene, in which sways on a crazy path between maudlin tears and a fighting re-enactment of his war experiences.

This is the first wide-screen film from Yugoslavia and the director knows his medium well.

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