Film Review: Night Train to Lisbon
A boring film about a boring guy whose sense of boringness is compounded on discovering old people who lived far less boring lives than him. Somethingyousaid.com’s Colin Delaney investigates:
I knew very little of the Carnation Revolution, a military coup and civil resistance against the dictatorship in 1974 Portugal, which led to the collapse of rule over that country’s African colonies.
Thanks to Night Train to Lisbon I still know very little.
The film is directed by Bille August (Smilla’s Sense of Snow) adapted from a novel of the same name by Pascal Mercier.
A memoir by now-deceased Portuguese doctor and wannabe philosopher, Amadeu Do Prado (Jack Huston – Boardwalk Empire) is the entry point for a story about a circle of friends involved in the uprising.
When Jeremy Irons’ character, the boring Raimund Gregorius, has his otherwise boring day broken up in boring Bern, Switzerland, by saving a woman from committing suicide he takes her to his class to keep an eye on her, but then watches her slip out a little too easily for my liking. And she leaves her jacket behind. Now I don’t care how suicidal you are, its chilly out, you take your coat until you get back to your bridge/gun/noose.
Within the jacket Gregorius finds a copy of Do Prado’s memoir and from its pages falls a train ticket leaving for Lisbon, Portugal in 15 minutes.
Gregorius rushes to the station platform, hoping to find the woman. But on not seeing her, hops on the train himself in a freak moment of un-boredom. Bored on the train, he reads the book further. Gregorius’ boring life is compounded as he’s romanced by the Portuguese doctor’s turn of phrase and secret affairs as a revolutionary.
I’ll stop with the plot here, but unfortunately, we spend half the film with boring Gregorius as he plays Murder She Wrote uncovering exactly what, he’s not entirely sure… but being simply swept up in an adventure that took place nearly 40 years ago.
The saving grace is, upon a series of interviews by Tweedy Irons with Do Prado’s associates, we flash back to 1974. It’s a far more thrilling and beautiful vantage point the story could have been told from in its entirety rather than in pieces. And despite it being about a revolution, it’s not like the story so fast paced that Gregorius’ Lisbon offers respite. It’s rather a chance to drift off.
Eventually Gregorius finds what he’s looking for, but it’s not a mystery either Gregorius or the viewer is privy to at the beginning of the film, which makes it difficult to be invested in.
Ultimately we want to know who the woman on the bridge was and her connection to it all… which we eventually do, but it’s done so in the most un-intriguing way, like when you’d play Hide & Seek with your brother and, before you’ve given, up he appears on the couch watching telly: “You took too long, I got bored. I’m on to Neighbours now.”
To address my opening paragraph, I don’t expect every film’s job to teach me about the history it’s set in but there’s something disappointing to watch this and get so little out of it, when there’s such potential for high drama with political intrigue set in a beautiful city. Perhaps I should watch 2000’s April’s Captains. It receives a much better score on IMDB.
For a director who’s won two Palme D’ors I feel like there were some pretty terrible decisions made in making this film. 1) Why is it in English? If this boring language scholar was so good at language surely he could bumble his way through Portuguese, and to that, why are all the Portuguese revolutionaries speaking English to each other… This was more distracting than having to read subtitles.
Which leads to 2) Casting: The international cast of Melanie Laurent (Inglorious Basterds), Christopher Lee (Hugo, Star Wars), Charlotte Rampling (The Eye of the Storm, Never Let Me Go) and Lena Olin (The Reader, Chocolat) great in their various native tongues, all struggled with their Portuguese accents. Why not just hire local actors and make it in the local language. I get that it’s supposed to make it have international appeal, but instead August has just opened his film up to international criticism. And it’s kinda insulting. If there was such a thing as ‘black-voice’, this is it.
And finally 3) Story: August’s worst decision was adapting the book in the first place. A much better story could have been told without Irons’ character. Fuck, he admits it at the very end that he leads a boring life. Perhaps that was August’s wink and apology for making us sit through it all.
Don’t bother with this.
Here is the Wikipedia link to the Carnation Revolution for you to find out more.
Words by Colin Delaney