Those looking for a relaxed low-key drama need to look no further than director Bille August latest film, Night Train To Lisbon. It’s a well acted affair, with a beautiful setting and a laid-back vibe. It’s never going to set the world on fire in the tension stakes but this is a smooth little film which reminds you big is not always better.
Jeremy Irons plays Raimund Gregorius, a professor who saves a mysterious young woman from throwing herself off a bridge in Bern. Fleeing from the scene, she leaves behind her coat, a train ticket to Lisbon and a book written by a young doctor. Gregorius becomes fascinated by the book’s contents and drops everything so that he can travel to the Portuguese capital to learn more about the its enigmatic author.
Jeremy Irons is one of the few actors who can convincingly play both shark-like evil and meek geek on screen without ever appearing as if he’s acting. In Night Train To Lisbon he plays the latter, a man who gives up his life to follow a book that touches him on an emotional level . It’s a performance that will never win awards (it’s not flashy), but it’s organic and truthful. He’s supported by an impressive cast that includes Charlotte Rampling, Mélanie Laurent, Jack Huston and Christopher Lee who all do good work.
Night Train To Lisbon (which is based on a novel by Pascal Mercier) balances its duel narrative well and both stories are served evenly (which is not always the case). August weaves them together in a convincing way, letting the tales glide along, keeping the audience involved without ever upping the urgency levels. It’s this lack of urgency which ultimately leads to the film’s biggest flaw. It never really moves up a gear, even when the emotional stakes are raised.
An interesting piece of cinema which never quite feels essential, Night Train To Lisbon is a good showcase for Jeremy Irons’ acting talent and the beauty of Lisbon.