Night Train to Lisbon – Seizing the day

This is my review of Night Train To Lisbon [DVD].

The dull routine of Raimund Gregorius, fifty-something Swiss teacher of classics, portrayed by a suitably disguised Jeremy Irons in baggy jumper and pebble glasses, is transformed by his spontaneous Good Samaritan act of saving a young woman from jumping off a bridge. When she runs away, leaving only her red raincoat, he finds that the pocket contains a train ticket to Lisbon and a book containing the forty-year old writings of a young doctor turned amateur philosopher, Amadeu de Prado.

Everything about this book captivates Gregorious, from the soulful expression in Amadeu’s photograph to his insights: “We leave something of ourselves behind when we leave a place, we stay there, even though we go away. And there are things in us that we can find again only by going back there.” “So, the fear of death might be described as the fear of not being able to become whom one had planned to be.” And so on.

On an impulse, Gregorious takes the train to Lisbon to find out more about Amadeu and his circle of acquaintances. In the process, he becomes ever more aware of the emptiness of his own life in comparison.

Some reviewers of the international bestseller on which this film is based have attacked the “cod philosophy” which clearly expresses the popularised views of the author, an academic philosopher. Apart from the fact that some of this may have suffered in translation from the original German, I agree with those who have argued that the philosophy need not be regarded as the main point. The film is very successful in providing it as a backdrop to a poignant story of how the lives of idealistic young people in 1970s Portugal were disrupted, even destroyed, by the violence and menace of the revolution in which an authoritarian government tried to suppress dissent, to the extent of using torture.

The scenes of Lisbon convey the crumbling appeal of the older parts of the city and the ferry crossing. Apart from a slightly implausible and corny love interest (without giving too much away, does the auburn-haired optician need to be quite so attractive and single to boot?) the film is well-acted with an intriguing and thought-provoking plot, and deserves to be better known.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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