Night Train to Lisbon is a beautifully crafted film with excellent performances from a stellar cast. The script delivers a compelling and highly believable storyline and the sensitive direction allows the highly capable cast to show their mettle. Powerful imagery and judicious shot selection add dimension to the drama.
Night Train to Lisbon is based upon the highly successful book of the same name by Pascal Mercier (Published by Carl Hanser Verlag GmbH). The work is entirely fictional but set in the harsh reality of the 1970’s when the brutal Salazar regime gripped Portugal and stifled all dissent, particularly among those in the ever growing Resistance movement.
The story begins in contemporary Berne, Switzerland where Raimund (played by Jeremy Irons) is employed as a teacher. The routine and predictability of Raimund’s life is abruptly changed when he intervenes to prevent a young woman from committing suicide. Unbeknown to Raimund, the woman is struggling with a dark secret that we the audience (and Raimund) only come to understand near the end of the story.
The young woman disappears leaving her coat behind. In the pocket Raimund finds a book that becomes the central thread of the story. Raimund is beguiled by the story; a biography of Dr Amadeu Almeida (played byJack Huston). Raimund learns that Dr Amadeu died of natural causes during the Portuguese civil war. Raimund’s curiosity is deepened by the enduring charisma, mystery and contradiction that appears to surround the life of Dr Amadeu. Raimund’s curiosity soon becomes an obsession as he strives to unravel the enigma. Hence the night train to Lisbon.
The narrative reflects the guiding philosophy of Dr Amadeu and extracts are used with great effect throughout the film to add meaning and explanation to seminal moments that surrounded Amadeu’s life during the Salazar years. The quotes are a delight, providing an insight of his humanity and a reflection upon those he loved, loathed or respected.
Many flashbacks are used to complement the thoughts of Dr Amadeu and they work well to provide the context, particularly the brutality of the times and the emerging relationship he has with Estafana (played by Lena Olin), the brilliant mastermind leading the Resistance. Amid ever-present danger and threats of betrayal, their love blossoms.
Raimund’s quest for understanding ventures ever deeper into the life of Dr Amadeu. We meet his close confidantes and through them our understanding of Amadeu the man continues to deepen. We meet his sister Adriana (played by Charlotte Rampling), still living in the family home in Lisbon. We meet Joao Eca (played by Tom Courtenay) who was a fellow Resistance member and we learn from the local priest, played by Christopher Lee a good deal about Amadeu’s disillusionment with religion and his approach to life.
Duration 111 minutes.
Distributed in 2013 by K5 International.