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Germany/Switzerland/Portugal 2013
Directed by
Bille August
111 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Night Train To Lisbon

Synopsis: Aging Latin teacher Raimund (Jeremy Irons) rescues a woman who is about to jump from a bridge in the Swiss city of Bern. But the woman disappears leaving behind her red coat in which Raimund find a train ticket to Lisbon, along with a book written by Amadeu Inacio de Almeida Prado (Jack Huston). Loving the philosophical ideas therein and feeling a deep emotional connection to the writer, Raimund heads to Lisbon in search of Amadeu. What he uncovers is a disturbing part of Portugal’s revolutionary history, a love triangle, and the possibility of changing his own dreary life.

It is perhaps a little perverse to watch a film based upon a book (by French writer Pascal Mercier) about a writer and his influential book. The storyline requires plenty of concentration, especially as it skips between two time frames – the present in which Raimund is on his quest to find people who knew Amadeu, and the past in which Amadeu and his friends became involved in the revolutionary movement against the Fascists. Many characters, then and now, are portrayed by different actors, and any lapse in concentration may leave you lost.

Portugal’s recent history, the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar form the factual background for this fictional story. I knew nothing of this history and so found it fascinating to learn of yet another dictatorship in the manner of Franco and Mussolini. But more engrossing for me is the film’s centrepiece of Amadeu’s book – a philosophical but passionate treatise upon life, longing, and love. Because Raimund leads such a dull and constrained life, he is especially moved by Amadeu’s writing and Irons’ voice-over readings from it are deeply moving.

The cast of this film is a strong one – Charlotte Rampling is Adriana, adoring sister to Amadeu. Christopher Lee plays an old priest who remembers Amadeu’s school days. In the present, Raimund meets an optometrist, Mariana (Martha Gedeck), who introduces him to Joao (Tom Courtney), now an old man, who had once been brutalised by the secret police back in the 70s for his association with Amadeu and the revolutionaries. And in the middle of it all we have Jorge (played as an old man by Bruno Ganz), Amadeus’s close friend, but rival for the love of fellow revolutionary Estefania (Mélanie Laurent plays her young, Lena Olin old).

Playing Amadeu is Jack Huston (John Huston’s grandson), an up and coming actor, strong enough to carry the important role of the intense and idealistic author who was also a dedicated doctor. The real delight for me is seeing again the incredibly talented Irons, playing a man full of dignity and compassion and yet afraid to follow the advice which he has given to the suicidal woman about one's ability to change one’s own life in an instant.

The beautiful scenes of Lisbon, combined with an evocative score, make for a charming atmosphere but despite its low-key tone the different time settings keep you on your toes. Films such as this that interweave feelings, philosophy and history are relatively rare on our Hollywood dominated screens but Night Train To Lisbon is a film that in its quiet way will give you a satisfying movie experience.




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