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American Women's Club of Hamburg

Nachtzug nach Lissabon (Night Train to Lisbon)

Germany/Switzerland/Portugal 2013
Starts March 7    

Directed by: Bille August
Writing credits: Pascal Mercier, Greg Latter, Ulrich Herrmann
Cast: Jeremy Irons, Melanie Laurent, Jack Huston, Martina Gedeck, Lena Olin
Length: 111 minutes

nachtzug nach LissabonBille August's adaptation of the popular novel, Night Train to Lisbon tells the story of a Swiss professor Raimond (Irons) who leaves his intellectual and passionless life behind to begin a journey that changes his life. When he saves a young woman from committing suicide, he finds a mysterious philosophical book of writings by a man, Amadeu (Huston), from Portugal. As he goes on a quest to find him, Raimond meets a wide variety of interesting people who reveal the intricacies of who Amadeu was and of the unspoken truths of the Portuguese revolution.

For the majority of the film, Night Train to Lisbon is a charming and thrilling story with an interesting backdrop of the time leading up to Portugal's Carnation Revolution and the effect it has on individuals to this day. While there are moments of true feeling (especially in regards to how the characters who lived through the revolution are dealing with it in the present), the greatest downfall of Night Train to Lisbon is its plot. The first half of the film is essentially driven by the question of who the mysterious suicidal woman was, but this subtext is quickly discarded in response to the compelling story of Amadeu and his friends. When the mysterious woman's motivations and identity are revealed, it feels forced, almost as though it was a forced addition to tie up loose ends. In fact, all of the conclusions that the film draws feel too contrived to really make it a satisfying film. Considering that the story had so much promise in the beginning, this makes it even more disappointing when the ending fails to be satisfactory.
Night Train to Lisbon is yet another example of a promising film which suffered from an unsatisfactory ending. Fortunately, due to the decent acting, beautiful scenery and a compelling story, the film is not totally a waste. However, for savvy viewers who prefer to watch movies that have the whole package, you wouldn't be amiss in skipping this one. ()


Classical studies teacher Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) is hurrying to work when he sees a woman perched on a bridge in the pouring rain, ready to jump. He grabs her and drags her to his class. She sneaks away, leaving her coat behind. Looking for some identification, Gregorius finds a book of philosophy in a pocket along with a train ticket to Lisbon. With the train leaving in 15 minutes, Gregorius, fascinated by the book, uncharacteristically on impulse cancels his classes and takes the train. He decides to find the author of the book, Amadeu de Prado (Jack Huston), a Portuguese doctor. As he tracks down the author, those in the present set the stage for returning to the past, when Prado was a young doctor during the Salazar dictatorship. During a protest that erupts into a brawl, the chief of secret police is mortally wounded but saved by the altruistic actions of the doctor. Prado’s friends are appalled, and to appease them and get the girl Estefania (Mélanie Laurent/Lena Olin), he joins the resistance movement. The chief does not forget what Prado did which ironically helps to save Estefania.

Gregorious learns all about Prado’s life and the politics that influenced him through meeting people from Prado’s life in the present, as the story is revealed in the past. The two storylines chug along like local trains through the Swiss Alps, slowly travelling towards the same destination and taking much longer than necessary. Those who have not read Nachtzug nach Lissabon (Night Train to Lisbon) by Pascal Mercier, might need to book a sleeper car. However, the city of Lisbon shines so beautifully that you could just look out the window.

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