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Film Review: Night Train to Lisbon
by Mary Nyiri

Night Train to Lisbon
Director: Bille August
Germany, Switzerland, Portugal 2013

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.