Late one night in Post-WWII Communist Poland, a man is killed by an oncoming train. The body turns out to be Wladyslaw Orzechowski (Opalinski), a legendary train engineer who had just lost his job after decades of riding the rails. An inquest is immediately launched to discover the cause of his death. The investigators call multiple witnesses; their memories of Orzechowski's career reveal how his idiosyncratic style ran him afoul of station-master Tuszka (Maciejewski). The tale of the pair's complicated relationship holds the keys to solving the mystery of the tragic accident.
Director Andrzej Munk was tragically killed in a car accident after making only a few films, but his body of work places him at the forefront of the Polish New Wave, right alongside the likes of Andrzej Wajda. "Man on the Tracks" is his underseen first feature, a gripping mystery and blistering piece of social commentary. Its heavy use of intricate narrative flashbacks at times recalls "Rashomon" or "Citizen Kane," but Munk only employs this device to level a devastating critique of the Stalinist uniformity enforced in 1950s Poland. At the time, this type of dissent was usually dealt with harshly; that Munk found a way to make his message heard makes this film as brave as it is expertly crafted.