Thank heavens for Jeremy Irons. There are few other actors who could glue together this plodding literary adaptation with the naturally engaging gravitas that Irons brings to the screen. He plays Raimund Gregorius, a self-declared boring professor living in grim, grey Bern who surprises himself by impulsively catching a train to sunny Lisbon in pursuit of a shadowy author. There he engages in some time-travel sleuthing and the film slips back to the 1970s when the author and his mates formed an underground resistance against Portugal’s fascist regime. The film’s drama and emotion lie in these flashback scenes laden with menace, idealism and a tumultuous love triangle.
In the present day, Raimund bumbles around the laneways of Lisbon hunting out a cast of esteemed po-faced European actors – Charlotte Rampling, Christopher Lee, Tom Courtenay – to unlock the past by way of earnest conversations told through clouds of cigarette smoke. The fact that he is completely detached and merely piecing together the story as an interested observer is the major flaw of the film. It drastically lacks stakes.
There’s no particular reason for Raimund to be caught up in the escapades of these charismatic Portuguese freedom fighters, except as a distraction to his middle-aged ennui. Perhaps that’s a good reason. It’s certainly a good enough one to see this film – a pleasantly distracting piece of Euro cinema about a rarely told slice of Portuguese history with beautiful vistas and stylish people but of little consequence.
‘Night Train to Lisbon’ Movie Times