11 October 2015 | kckidjoseph-1
If You Like Your Ride Thoughtful and Introspective, This Train's For You
"Night Train to Lisbon," an especially engrossing 2013 film now appearing on Netflix, may not be everyone's cup of tea, but for those hungry for a movie without flying cars that instead pulls you in with an unusual plot and thoughtful, incisive performances by an exceptionally capable cast, this one's for you.
The film was nominated for six Sophia Awards _ the national film awards of Portugal _ including best picture, and won three, for best supporting actress (Beatrice Bartarda), best art direction and best make-up.
Directed by Bille August ("Pelle the Conqueror"), "Night Train to Lisbon" was adapted from a philosophical novel by Swiss author Pascal Mercier.
Mercier's quotations are spoken in voice-over by the film's protagonist, Raimund Gregorius, played by Oscar winner Jeremy Irons, a quiet, lonely classical studies professor working in Bern, Switzerland, who rescues a young woman about to leap off a bridge and after she disappears, finds himself on a quest to Lisbon, not only to find her but to fully understand the story of a doctor-turned-poet whose book he discovers in the pocket of the coat she leaves behind.
The story isn't as dense or contrived as it sounds, thanks to the deft screenplay by Greg Latter and Ulrich Herrmann, and the uniform commitment to character and plot by Irons and a cast that includes veterans Tom Courtenay, Charlotte Rampling, Christpher Lee and Lena Olin.
It's the kind of story that sucks us in because it's a kind of "getaway" piece: Who doesn't daydream in a Walter Mittyish way of getting away from it all and taking off on an historical detective story, which is what this is.
Once in Portugal, Irons' Gregorius sets about on a quest for the author but instead finds his sister, Adriana (Rampling as the mature version, Batarda as the younger), and learns that Amadeu died in 1974 and that only 100 copies of his book were printed. The sister has six of the books and, wondering what happened to the rest, is delighted to find that her late brother's limited edition work found an audience beyond her country's borders. Thus, a tenuous but all-important bond is formed between the soft-spoken, insightful professor and the poet's sibling.
The movie intersperses Raimund's investigation with flashbacks to a past in which we meet the young Amadeu (a superb Jack Huston), a member of the resistance to the dictatorship of António Salazar.
Through Adriana, Raimund meets the priest (Lee) who taught Amadeu, Amadeu's best friend, Jorge (Bruno Ganz in the older version, August Diehl in the younger), and learns of Estefania (the fiery Mélanie Laurent), a resistance fighter who was Jorge's girlfriend until she met and fell instantly in love with the handsome Amadeu.
After Raimund breaks his spectacles, he meets a sympathetic optician Mariana (Martina Gedeck) who by happenstance has an uncle named Joao (Courtenay as the elder version, Marco D'Almeida as the youthful one) who was also a member of the resistance and fills in the story. Late in the film, the strings of the plot are pulled together when Raimund finally meets the mature Estefania (a stunningly beautiful and completely believable Olin).
As I said, "Night Train to Lisbon" isn't for everyone, especially for those accustomed to tons of action and instant gratification via computer wizardry and slam bang eye-for-an-eye retribution, but it did it for me. It's extraordinarily literate and sumptuously photographed to boot, and it's not a stretch to say it contains threads of David Lean's wonderful 1965 film version of "Doctor Zhivago," albeit on a much smaller scale.
I was especially drawn to Irons' professor, a sensationally muted performance that holds the whole thing together.
Since you'll probably be watching this in your living room, "Night Train to Lisbon" is rated R (under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian) for a scene of violence and brief sexuality (which really aren't all that bad).