Plot: Lina, Giovanni and Carlo take the Roma-Orvieto train for a trip to the countryside.
One of the beacon films of the European cinema of the Thirties. Celebrating the sound film as a rebirth of cinema, Treno popolare combines and harmonises, with genius, several characteristics of the cinema of the period. Talking pictures, of which it is too often said that they rendered cinema theatrical, also accentuated and stimulated realism. (…) This realism, born from sound and the possibility to make characters speak in their own langauage and with their true voices, here extends to a unanimist depiction of Italian society, and notably of the petite bourgeoisie of the time, portrayed with great veracity in its daily activity and behaviour. And the fact that the film is entirely staged in exteriors makes it possible to assign it its place – it precedes Renoir’s Toni by a year – as the first neo-realist work. The film’s description of society is presented with a lyricism which comes in part from the musical structure, to which Nino Rota’s score, one of the most beautiful in the history of cinema, brings an unparallelled emotion and grace. It was Matarazzo who persuaded Nino Rota to work for the cinema and the music of Treno popolare is his first film score. Sometimes melancholy or nostalgic, the film also breathes a tender sensuality, apparent in the landscapes, the photography and the movements of some of the characters. The film achieves a miraculous balance between the acuteness of the sociological realism and the lyricism of the description of nature and of that brief exaltation that seizes the characters in their contact with it.
Jacques Lourcelles, Dictionnaire du cinéma, Laffont, Paris, 1992