WHEN widowed Swiss academic Raimund (Jeremy Irons) stops a young woman wearing a bright red raincoat from jumping into the river in Berne, what we get watching Bille August’s film of Pascal Mercier’s novel is a complex, compelling drama that time-travels between now and clandestine resistance in the late 1960s against Antonio Salazar’s repressive PIDE secret police.
Raimund considers himself a boring fellow living a boring life. The young woman vanishes leaving the raincoat in his lecture room. In its pocket is a small book by Amadeo Prado, a philosophical discussion of human existence against the background of a cell of resistance partisans.
And a ticket for that night’s train to Lisbon where Raimund’s impulsive decision to get on board becomes the portal to an intelligent thriller. Forget home and university. Meet new people. Ask questions. Overcome reluctance to answer. Feel the boredom dissipate. Escape dangers.
It looks lovely. Good tensions develop. Passion and jealousy underlie revolutionary dedication. Playing characters with resistance connections from the story’s two periods, the impressive cast includes Charlotte Rampling, Bruno Gansz, Melanie Laurent, Tom Courtenay, Lena Olin, Christopher Lee. Playing the only character involved only in modern events, Martina Gedeck is the optometrist who not only replaces Raimund’s smashed spectacles but also helps him in his quest and perhaps lifts a corner of his boring self-esteem.
On reflection, three and a half stars don’t do “Night Train to Lisbon” full justice. Four.
At Palace Electric and Capitol 6