| The Junction
Director Urszula Urbaniak
Writer Urszula Urbaniak
Stars Karoline Dryzner, Ewa Lorska, Adam Woronowicz, Michal Litwiniec, Ewa Dalkowska
Running time 82 minutes
Made Poland 1999
Reviewed by Nic O
MARIA is a signal operator at a tiny Polish train station, a dilapidated place where the trains barely run, let alone run on time. Maria entertains herself in the signal box in reverie about the train drivers and stories about her best friend's busy sex life. As she becomes increasingly depressed by her situation she plans her escape.
This is a genuine small-town tale, something reflected by attitudes of the local townspeople and the rolling on of the usual rogue's gallery of smaller parts (including a pornographer and a village idiot). Karoline Dryzner's central performance of Maria is a lovely understated lead and her entirely well-meaning crushes force you to will her on, even as you cringe on her behalf at the responses she gets. Compared to her adventurous best friend she is highly reserved, leading to some great exchanges between the pair. Her best friend is played with such fabulously joyous sluttiness that you really do wish both girls could escape the drudgery.
The use of the signal box and Maria's home to enclose most of the action inspires in the audience some of the clawing claustrophobia experienced in the film. A quirky score and talented acting from the majority of the cast - including a number of men who are given very little to do besides look butch and drive trains - make this a very human film with some very funny moments. The sympathy one builds up for Maria, and to a lesser extent her exotic friend, feels quite real and the film certainly leaves you curious about their futures, and more generally about the realities of life in rural Poland.
In contrast to the heavy dissatisfaction of the characters' lives, the action is set in bright summertime with director Urbaniak bringing a mixture of comic scenes and scenes with more emotional weight. With a charming lead blossoming as she begins to gather the confidence for independence and her changing relationships with her best friend, this is involving and educating viewing. A well done if inconsequential film driven by well-written, interesting and realistic characters.