[Film Review] Night Train to Lisbon (2013)


Title: Night Train to Lisbon
Year: 2013
Country: Germany, Switzerland, Portugal
Language: English
Genre: Mystery, Romance
Director: Bille August
Greg Latter
Ulrich Herrmann
Pascal Mercier
Jeremy Irons
Mélanie Laurent
Jack Huston
Martina Gedeck
Tom Courtenay
August Diehl
Bruno Ganz
Charlotte Rampling
Lena Olin
Burghart Klaußner
Marco D’Almeida
Nicolau Breyner
Christopher Lee
Beatriz Batarda
Helena Afonso
Filipe Vargas
Sarah Bühlmann
Hanspeter Müller
Adriano Luz
Rating: 5.5/10

Here comes my first film from 2013, saw it in the local cinema with original language, the film is adapted from Pascal Mercier’s eponymous novel, directed by Denmark-born director Bille August (my first foray into his films though), and gathering a pristine international cast, the premise seems ostensibly tantalizing.

Set against present time, Jeremy Irons is a professor lived in Switzerland, one rainy morning, on his way to work, he rescued a woman who intended to jump from a bridge, then inexplicably he was drawn to an esoteric book she left and within 5-minutes of screen time, he is on the night train to Lisbon, with the hope to unravel the mystery of the Portuguese author and at the same time, audiences’ curiosity has been effectually heightened as well (if it is not too perfunctory in its straightforward manner).

Encountered with a few bluntly fortuitous set-ups (after a conspicuous accident by which he broke his spectacles, he could remain absolute aplomb when he found out that the uncle of the woman working in the eye-glass was a close friend of the author he was possessed with, in the cinematic term, there is no coincidence?), he would up piecing together a die-young doctor-poet’s life through a group of fellow dictator-fighters’ flashbacks among the country’s chaotic times.

A history buried, but in this case, all the witness but one are still alive, so eventually everyone chips in his or her part of the truth, and the story meanders into its own circle of consummation, but in a very conventional way and the final revelation is an overkill, the romanticised plot of an attractive female intruder tainting the camaraderie is beyond banality and no substantial sway in the wayward decision-making moment.

The cast is viable, Mélanie Laurent is as adorable as always on screen and Jack Huston, a rising star from the esteemed Huston family and has a younger Jack White countenance, actually is a soothing discovery, his ethereal temperament tallies wonderfully with the character’s poet-and-doctor ambivalence. Jeremy Irons, presumably the leading character, doesn’t have any potential showboating scenes and his story-line with Martina Gedeck is shoehorned, other old hands like Courtenay, Ganz, Olin, Lee are all standard-offering except Rampling hogs the limelight with her morose and corrosive vulnerability.

The film is an underachiever in both historical reflection and potboiler thriller, for spectators oblivious of the particular milieu, it holds up its tension well for half of the time, then all the hackneyed gimmicks are jostling one after another, the final confession mush which registers nothing more than a belated regret, and doubtfully it will satisfactorily bookend the professor’s persistent pursuit.

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