NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON
Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons), a professor of old languages in Switzerland, saves a Portuguese beauty from committing suicide. A book by Portuguese author Amadeu do Prado (Jack Huston), a novel about the 1970s resistance against the late Portuguese ruler António de Oliveira Salazar, enthuses him. His quest takes him to Lisbon where he meets the people from the book, and a dramatic series of revelations about the author and his circle.
Review by Louise Keller:
An academic, a revolutionary and the philosophical book of poetry that brings them together are the key ingredients of this mystery romantic thriller whose execution fails to live up to its superlative cast. Based on Pascal Mercier's novel, Bille August's film struggles to marry the story's two timeframes with the narrative leapfrogging back and forth. Jeremy Irons' Swiss professor protagonist uses the characters he meets as stepping stones to lead him to his ultimate destination.
In some ways due to this structure, the film's parts work more effectively as vignettes than the film does as a whole. It is ironic that the self-professed 'boring' character (as portrayed by the always charismatic Irons) central to the story strand, is the one that engages us the most. The film's fragmentation makes everything drag, despite the glittering cast and interesting source material.
The film begins well. In just a couple of scenes, the character of Raimund Gregorius (Irons) is beautifully established. He plays chess by himself; he does not hesitate when he sees a young girl about to take her own life and in a split second decision (with a woman's red coat in one hand, a book of poetry in the other) jumps on the night train to Lisbon as described in the title.
The next jump is not as successful. I refer to the first time jump into flashback, when we are introduced to the poetry book's handsome author, Amadeu (Jack Huston). It takes some time for the rhythms required to transport us from the present to the past to make sense. Back in the present, Martina Gedeck (The Lives of Others) is well matched against Irons as the Lisbon optometrist who puts everything in focus; their scenes together zing. The mix of accents is interesting, if not totally convincing in this German-Swiss-Portuguese co-production in which it is Amadeu's philosophy about leaving something about ourselves behind is explored.
Huston is charming as Amedeu, the revolutionary in favour of independent thinking, while Mélanie Laurent is lovely as the young Estefânia. The real dynamic comes from scenes set in the present with Bruno Ganz as the older Jorge, Amadeu's friend and colleague. Charlotte Rampling and Christopher Lee shine in their cameos, both characters revealing something more about the heroic, enigmatic Amedeu. Tom Courtenay is good as the ageing João and Lena Olin's scene is memorable not only for its content but for the anticipation it elicits.
I must mention the music score because it irritated me throughout by its melodramatic inanity. The winding, shadowy lanes of Lisbon and the sense of the city that the film delivers through Filip Zumbrunn's cinematography is one of its highlights. It takes a while to get there, but the story strands eventually find their natural conclusions, leaving us reasonably pleased (if not delighted) that we have jumped aboard the train.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A melancholy film with a big, soft heart, Night Train To Lisbon is a story of memories and survival, told by the participants to an outsider, Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons), a professor in a Swiss college whose Englishness cannot be hidden. No matter, this is not so much about his nationality as about him as the catalyst and the changes his journey makes in him. If the title conjures up the romanticism of railway journeys to interesting places, it works as an ironic antidote to what lies at the end of the rail line for our - until now - unadventurous professor.
In the last frame ... but you don't want to know. Suffice to say the train to Lisbon is not where the action takes place, and the train from Lisbon carries the resolution.
Until the moment on a bridge when he sees a young woman about to jump off, his life has no connection to what he finds when he tries to locate the woman. Uncharacteristically, he takes the train to Lisbon as he follows the trail left by the book in her possession. It's apt, though, because he is a teacher of languages and the words in the book have an impact on him.
It's an exceptional cast Tom Courtney gets my vote); Irons bringing his intelligence and low key charisma to the role of Gregorius, genuinely curious and caring. He's our eyes and ears, and it's a pity the screenplay and Bille August's direction makes it so hard for us to connect with it all. The problem is in the fractured nature of the telling, with time jumps that require intellectual athleticism to keep track of the young versions of the older characters.
Added to this challenge for the audience is the constant battering of accents and speech mannerisms that defy visceral acceptance; we are constantly trying to make conscious adjustments and allowances. It gets too hard. It's a shame because there is certainly a powerful story of relationships tested strained by the stresses of political conflict as well as romantic drama. In that respect, it isn't a fresh story; resistance fighters in an authoritarian state face danger from within as well as without. The brutality of the secret police; the selflessness of some, the misunderstandings of others ... and, crucially, the impact of a family father figure who acquires the label, The Butcher of Lisbon...
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NIGHT TRAIN TO LISBON (M)
CAST: Jeremy Irons, Charlotte Rampling, Melanie Laurent, Jack Huston, Bruno Ganz, Lena Olin
PRODUCER: Kerstin Ramcke, Peter Reichenbach, Gunther Russ,
DIRECTOR: Bille August
SCRIPT: Greg Latter, Ulrich Herrmann (novel by Pascal Mercier)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Filip Zumbrunn
EDITOR: Hansjörg Weißbrich
MUSIC: Annette Focks
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Augusto Mayer
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Pinnacle
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: December 5, 2013