An impulse to save a life launches a journey of fascination, intrigue and unexpected discoveries in Night Train to Lisbon.
Based on Pascal Mercier’s bestselling novel and a screenplay written by Greg Latter and Ulrich Herrmann, the captivating film investigates the notion of being driven to the edge and the power of the human spirit to reconcile the past.
On his way to work, Swiss Professor Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) has a chance encounter with a Portuguese woman on the Kirchenfeld Bridge in his hometown of Bern. The woman leaves behind her coat and in the pocket there is a book and a train ticket. Acting on the spur of the moment, Raimund boards the train and embarks on an adventure that trails the historical writings in the book, A Goldsmith of Words, by Portuguese doctor and philosopher Amadeu de Prado.
Retracing the philosopher’s steps and exploring the content of his book opens a new chapter in Raimund’s life. He is drawn to reconsider his own story as he reads words such as: “If it is so that we live only a small part of the life within us, what happens to the rest?” and “The fear of death may indeed be the fear of not becoming all we planned to be”.
Putting the pieces of the past together while following the subject matter in the book, Raimund displays newfound courage in his encounters. Optometrist Mariana (Martina Gedeck) offers another way of looking at things and, one by one, the signals appear. He meets Amadeu’s sister, Adriana (played with stoic conviction by Charlotte Rampling), who reflects on the stories of political and familial challenges encountered by her brother, who is brought to life with distinguished complexity by actor Jack Huston.
The son of a Judge, Amadeu defied social expectation when befriending the son of a greengrocer, Jorge O’Kelly, and his contemporary Joao Eca. The young men lived through the volatile period of the Resistance, where speaking one’s truth could be perceived as an act of rebellion and treason, punishable by death.
This well-crafted film, directed by Bille August, provides an account of history and an experience of its aftermath through the endeavours of Raimund, with the adult Joao and Jorge helping to join the dots. The text in the book simultaneously informs the story and provides the viewer with a rich landscape on which to ponder the writings of Amadeu.
Night Train to Lisbon is a curious adventure that artfully parallels the legacy of those who have gone before with the challenges of the here of now. Amadeu demonstrates the importance of taking risks to step beyond the life we know, and in doing so poses the question: “Is it possible to return to that life once we have gone beyond it?”
© Patricia Herreen 2013