I love these films. I love the way they look. They combine open exteriors with great angled and close-up shots in darker or more shadowy lighting.
Summary: Three fictional, nightmarish but intense and realistic stories
The first two reviews of "Cien" (1956) are accurate in pointing out the merits of this great film. It was a pleasure to watch it.
The film consists of three suspense stories. We begin in the present of 1956 when a young couple speeding along a rural road flanked by flat farmland and punctuated by utility poles see a man fall off a speeding express train. The investigating officer is sure his identity will be established, but a doctor is not so sure. He goes on to relate a story from 1943 during the Nazi occupation of Poland when a traitor to the resistance caused a deadly incident and whose identity was never discovered. This tale has one of the most realistic gunfights I've ever seen on film. I've shot a Mauser and can verify that shooting accurately even across a room is very difficult unless you practice a great deal. The pistols recoil. In the heat of a pistol fire exchange, it is even harder to aim and hit a man shooting at you.
The second tale is related by another detective. It's 1946 and there is instability and fighting against the provisional government. A lone wolf group, dubbed terrorist, is active. The detective and one other man infiltrate the group, but the other man's cooperation is turning into betrayal.
In the present again, a young coal mine worker is arrested as he leaves the train. Under suspicion on the case, he relates his story and it circles back to the mystery man falling from the train.
The noir stories are rooted in realistic Polish history that has to do with political themes and actions, as opposed to the more typical American noir stories of the period that focus on criminal behavior. But in common with American noir, the stories in "Cien" generate an environment of suspicion, fear, betrayal and uncertainty. The filmmakers are very smooth and creative in their story-telling. The film moves dynamically with superb cinematography. The close-ups are very effective. The locations add realism. There are shots on the train that are real in which the actors dangerously chase on a narrow bit of support outside the train. There are crowd scenes near a coal mine and other scenes of Nazi soldiers driving through the cobblestone streets and people fleeing that look terrific. In these ways and others, the film seamlessly integrates noir and neo-realism, achieving the documentary element that marks Italian neo-realism.