Alex Reviews: “Night Train to Lisbon”

Welcome to the first instalment of “Alex Reviews” which is basically going to take on the format of me reviewing stuff I experience. Expect to see anything from music and films to restaurants and days out. Basically, anything and everything that is entertaining, I will write about.

Night Train to Lisbon (2013)

Night Train to Lisbon poster

The film centres around an ageing and solitary philosophy professor (Jeremy Irons) living in Bern, Switzerland, who, while on the way to work on morning, saves the life of a woman about to jump from a bridge. He takes the woman with him to his work but she abruptly leaves, forgetting to take her coat and a copy of a collection of memoirs by a mysterious Portuguese writer, Amadeu de Prado (Jack Huston). Upon finding the book and trying to return it to the woman, our protagonist enters himself into the complex and emotional life of the author and his friends, and the dark, dangerous lives they lead during the Portuguese revolution.

Although a slow and thoughtful piece that takes it’s time to get going, the film is full of gripping drama that prevents it, even at it’s slowest moments, from becoming laborious. The characters are starkly real and fleshed out and special recognition must go to the talents of the actors playing the older versions of the characters as they recount the stories of their past lives and the traumatic experiences they’ve been through. Charlotte Rampling especially does a spectacular job of conveying the role of Amadeu’s troubled sister trying to distance herself from her past.

Over all the film does a great job of telling a story within a story, all overlaid with Amadeu’s bitter but honest philosophies. The film captures this feeling of introverted speculation well and the whole thing feels like a visual representation of Amadeu’s musings.

Unfortunately the drama can sometimes overdo itself, especially when the troubled love sub-plot becomes the focus of the narrative despite the great danger of the revolution going on all around them. Nonetheless, even this deviance can be forgiven given that the tale is being retold by the people who experienced it and thus their emotions are likely to carry a lot of weight in their memory of the events. Similarly, pure coincidence plays a large role in the film, at several points conveniently occurring to point the protagonist in a new (and correct) direction in his search to uncover the story. This detracts only slightly from the plot, fortunately, as coincidence in itself has become a recognisable and acceptable plot device in the majority of modern film and television.

In the end, director Bille August does a sterling job in smoothly moving between complex and multi-layered story lines while keeping the plot easily accessible and the roles of the characters memorable. ‘Night Train to Lisbon’ is ultimately an enjoyable and thought-provoking insight into the lives of a few great people living in a dark and terrible part of Portuguese history.

8/10

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