Cast: Jeremy Irons, Mélanie Laurent, Jack Huston, Martina Gedeck, Tom Courtenay, August Diehl, Bruno Ganz, Lena Olin and starring Christopher Lee, Charlotte Rampling
Director: Bille August
Running Time: 111 minutes
Synopsis: Bern, Switzerland. Once again Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons) cannot sleep. He starts playing chess against himself until dawn. For years now, ever since his marriage collapsed, the high-school Latin teacher has been leading a quiet, uninspiring life. Just like every other morning over the past 30 years, he makes his way to school, which as always takes him past the Kirchenfeld Bridge. But this rainy day turns out to be unlike any other.
Raimund sees a young woman wearing a red coat (Sarah Spale-Bühlmann) standing on the railing, just about to jump to her death. He runs up to her and is able to save her in the very last moment. He decides to take her along to school, but the mysterious stranger disappears again just as fast as she appeared, leaving only her coat behind. In one of the pockets Raimund finds a book called -A Goldsmith of Words' by Amadeu Inàcio de Almeida Prado.
Raimund abandons his students to look for the woman. His first stop is the second-hand bookshop where she bought the novel. This is where he finds a train ticket to Lisbon hidden between the pages. The train is scheduled to leave in 15 minutes.
The professor hurries to the train station, hoping to catch the young Portuguese woman on the platform, but she isn't there. Impulsively, he boards the train and starts reading the book. He is fascinated by the author (Jack Huston) whose picture in the book portrays a young man with an intelligent and melancholy gaze. The passionate writing profoundly affects Raimund.
He is particularly enthralled by the book's depiction of a life filled with drama and longing far beyond his own usual routine. He desperately wants to find out more about the author and decides to track him down when the train arrives in Lisbon.
On arrival in the Portuguese city, Raimund enquires after Amadeu's address and finds the house in a noble neighborhood. Amadeu's sister, Adriana (Charlotte Rampling) receives him, but sends him away explaining the writer is not at home. As he is about to leave the house, the housekeeper sends him to the cemetery, where he is surprised to discover Amadeu's name on the family tomb. He had died over 30 years ago – on the day of the Cloves Revolution, which had ended the 40-year dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar.
Adriana, however, has adored and idolised her brother ever since as a medical student he had saved her life. As a young woman (Beatriz Batarda), Adriana would assist her brother in his office. To this day she speaks of him as if he were alive. Raimund decides to track down Amadeu's friends and acquaintances, in order to glean whatever information he can on the doctor who so clearly would have preferred to have been a writer and philosopher. This is when coincidence comes to his aid: Mariana de Eca (Martina Gedeck) is an affectionate and interesting woman who he trusts immediately. She puts Raimund in touch with a close friend of Amadeu's, her uncle Joao de Eca (Tom Courtenay). The two men were both members of Portugal's Resistance movement when the country suffered beneath the heavy hand of Europe's longest-running dictatorship.
Now an old man living in a nursing home, Joao revisits his memories of the young Amadeu (Jack Huston) with Raimund and Mariana. His story begins with Mendez (Adriano Luz), also known as the Butcher of Lisbon, who had been the head of Portugal's hated secret police in the early 1970s. Mendez had once broken every bone in both hands of the young Joao (Marco D'Almeida) in an attempt to force him to reveal the name of a female comrade in the Resistance movement. Joao had remained silent and been sent to prison.
The older Joao reveals it is because of Mendez the people in Lisbon believed Amadeu to have been a traitor. The Butcher of Lisbon had been beaten up and left in front of Amadeu's front door night. The young doctor had seen no choice but to treat him and subsequently save his life.
Enthralled by what he is discovering about Amadeu, Raimund's further investigations take him to a derelict school where Father Bartolomeu (Christopher Lee) had been Amadeu's teacher over 40 years ago.
Raimund learns that as a student Amadeu had already been a brilliant free spirit. Bartolomeu remembers a sharp-witted and passionate final speech of Amadeu's in a church, where he had snubbed the establishment and had placed freedom and beauty above everything else. Several of those listening had left the church in outrage, among them Amadeu's father (Burghart Klaußner), a judge, with whom Amadeu had never got along.
Slowly Raimund is able to imagine what kind of a person Amadeu had been. He visits Joao once more, and this time he tells him a story about Estefania. Being denounced as a traitor had lead Amadeu to join the Resistance movement once and for all, where Jorge (August Diehl), Amadeu's closest childhood friend, had taken on an active role. At one of the meetings, he met Estefania (Mélanie Laurent) and it had been love at first sight, the two of them were meant for each other. Everyone in the room had sensed it at once, even Jorge, who was her lover at the time.
Estefania and Amadeu were torn between their feelings for each other and their sense of loyalty towards Jorge. But they drew closer, and Jorge's jealously increased. He asked Joao to give him a weapon, planning to kill Estefania for the good of the Resistance movement. If she were to be caught by the secret police, none of them would be safe anymore, for it was Estafania who knew everyone's names. Joao reluctantly gave Jorge his gun, an act as he now confides to Raimund, he goes on to regret for his entire life. To this day he does not know what happened to Estafania.
Inspired by the heady mix of romance, adventure and intrigue, Raimund is determined to find out Amadeu's entire life story. He feels his energy being restored. Finally his life has a purpose again, finally he is motivated again. He invites Mariana to dinner and feels more happy and relaxed than he has in years. He can feel there is more to this relationship than just friendship.
In order to solve the mystery, Raimund decides he must speak with Jorge (Bruno Ganz), who still runs a small pharmacy in Lisbon. Jorge may be the only person who will be able to tell him the entire story. Will Raimund succeed in putting together the pieces of the past and the tragic story of Amadeu's, Estefania's and Jorge's lives? And what about his own life? Will Raimund dare to start over again and confess his feelings for Mariana?
Night Train to Lisbon
Release Date: December 5th, 2013
'When I watched the film, the screen mirrored the images I had imagined. It was a hypnotic and powerful experience. During the first scene I lost touch with regular time and at the end it was hard to find my way back. This film allows you to leave behind the scrub and undergrowth of everyday life and step into a clearing. The story evolves using images of immense beauty and poetic force and carries the audience off to distant Portugal, to a time far away.
The plot of the film and the storyline of the novel are not exactly the same, which is due to the different logic of the respective medium. However, the film has the same psychological outline and depth of characters as well as the nature of the drama.
Following the style of the novel, Bille August has too created a philosophical film, which deals with universal existential questions. We hear Gregorius reading aloud from the writings of the Portuguese doctor and poet.
You don't want Jeremy Irons voice to stop. In fact, you don't want the film to end. When it was over and the lights went back on, the first thing I said was: -When can I see it again?'"
Director Bille August on Night Train to Lisbon
'Night Train to Lisbon is a philosophical thriller. As the title implies, it is about a journey. For me it is about the journey of a man who doesn't expect much from life anymore. By chance he meets someone and is flung into a new reality of life through which he discovers a new meaning in life as well as hope for the future. The core of the film is contained in the introductory scene. The protagonist asks a woman, whom he was just able to prevent from committing suicide: 'Do you realize you can change your life in an instant?" Ironically, the protagonist also has to learn how to internalise this principle for himself. The absurdity of the human condition, being able to express such a genuine truth, but not be able to live by it, has always fascinated me. I am not judging it, I am sympathetic towards it. I try to confront the audience with this discrepancy in human nature without leaving them alone in dealing with the tragedy of it. I hope the audience will also find a way to change their lives for the better."
For Peter Reichenbach, producer and co-owner of the renowned Swiss film production company C-Films AG, Night Train to Lisbon comprised the perfect elements for an authentic European co-production: a Swiss author, a best-selling German novel and a mystery story set mainly in Portugal.
Reichenbach was enthralled by the storyline of Pascal Mercier's novel, particularly how the writer had cleverly interwoven two different time periods and two different lives, those of a present-day Swiss classicist with a member of the Portuguese resistance during the last years of the Salazar dictatorship of the 1970s.
After he acquired the film rights to the novel in 2006, Reichenbach set up the project as a Swiss-German-Portuguese co-production. The producers are Günther Russ, Kerstin Ramcke and Michael Lehmann of Germany's Studio Hamburg FilmProduktion. They immediately recognised the potential of the project.
Getting Studio Hamburg on board was crucial. 'C-FILMS would not have been able to shoulder a project of this size on its own," says Reichenbach and his business associate Michael Steiger. C-FILMS' credits include Swiss hits -Der Verdingbub', -Mein Name ist Eugen' and -Grounding – The Last Days of Swissair'.
'We found highly competent and experienced associates in Günther Russ, Kerstin Ramcke and Michael Lehman," explains Reichenbach. 'It is thanks to Studio Hamburg FilmProduktion, a subsidiary company of Studio Hamburg GmbH, one of the largest and most important studios in Germany and their great reputation, we were able to finance and produce a large-scale film like this. Based on the positive experience of Night Train to Lisborn, future mutual projects are already being developed."
Benjamin Seikel of the newly-created German subsidiary company C-Films (Deutschland) GmbH and Ana Costa of the long-established company Cinemate SA from Portugal joined the project as co-producers. Once the project was financed, 70 percent of the financing came from Germany, 20 percent from Switzerland and 10 percent from Portugal.
Throughout the six years it took to finance the film, the producers were steadfast in their belief this was a special project. They were confident it could resonate with audiences in the same way as the literary adaptations -The English Patient' and -The Reader'.
The project gained momentum when the internationally-renowned Danish director Bille August was hired. August is a two-time Palme d'Or winner (for 1987's -Pelle The Conqueror' and for 1992 -Best Intentions') among many other awards. August had read and loved the novel and accepted the job immediately.
'It immediately became clear we were on the same page," says Studio Hamburg's Kerstin Ramcke, who has produced hit films including -Die Rosenstrasse' as well as several 'Tatort" films and the award-winning new format -Der Tatortreiniger', of the relationship shared by the producers and their director. 'We had never worked with Bille August before. He kept faith with us for over two years."
Thanks to August, as well as the accomplished script by Greg Latter and Ulrich Herrmann, it was possible to cast an illustrious ensemble right down to the smallest supporting part. BAFTA-winning actor Jeremy Irons was intrigued by the lead role of Raimund Gregorius. Irons' intelligent and melancholic presence, impressively conveyed in several previous works, made him the perfect choice for the part. Irons had already starred in August's successful screen adaptation of Isabel Allende's -The House Of The Spirits' in 1993 and was looking forward to working with him again.
The award- winning German stars Martina Gedeck (-The Lives Of Others', -The Wall'.), August Diehl (-Inglourious Basterds', -23'), Bruno Ganz (-Downfall') and Burghart Klaußner (-The White Ribbon') all relished the opportunity to work with Bille August. He enjoys a reputation as an excellent actor's director.
Bruno Ganz, who has worked with many different directors agreeing: 'As an actor, you feel like you are in especially good hands with him," he explains.
The cast also includes rising UK actor Jack Huston (-Boardwalk Empire', -Kill Your Darlings'), one of the scions of the legendary Huston dynasty, and the young French star Mélanie Laurent, (-Inglourious Basterds', Beginners'), as well as the celebrated Lena Olin (perhaps best-known for -Chocolat' and -The Unbearable Lightness Of Being) and the venerable UK actor Tom Courtenay (most recently seen in -Quartet'). Further casting coups were secured when the filmmakers signed up screen legends Christopher Lee and Charlotte Rampling.
'It was never just about having big names up there on the posters, it was about high level and precise casting," explains Peter Reichenbach of the fine art of putting together an ensemble.
As the list of actors grew, so did the number of backers. They included Germany's Telemünchen Gruppe and its German distribution company Concorde, as well as Swiss distributor Frenetic Films, Portuguese distribution partner Lusomundo and the Benelux's Paradiso Filmed Entertainment.
The financing partners include the German Federal Film Board (FFA), the film subsidy Hamburg Schleswig Holstein, Medienboard Berlin Brandenburg, the German Federal Film Fund (DFFF), Eurimages, MEDIA, the Zurich Film Foundation, and the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, Portugal's national ICA and the city of Lisbon, as well as the SRF (Swiss Radio and Television) and Swiss pay- TV channel Teleclub.
Principal photography began in March 2012 in the Swiss city of Bern. The production then moved to its main location of Lisbon in Portugal for seven weeks.
'We didn't want to shoot the film anywhere else than in Lisbon", says Studio Hamburg's Günther Russ.
Much of the film's appeal lies in the unique charm of the Portuguese city which utterly beguiles Raimund Gregorius.
Ana Costa and her colleague Paulo Trancoso proved to be invaluable when it came to finding fresh and original locations far off the usual tourist trail. The production used the winding alleyways and stately buildings of the city to recreate both the contemporary scenes of Gregorius' search to discover what happened to the doctor Amadeu de Prado as well as the historical scenes, which take place during the Salazar sequences.
August and the producers put together the heads of department and the crew with same degree of care they did the cast.
The director of photography is Switzerland's Filip Zumbrunn whose credits include -Grounding- The Last Days of Swissair', -Marcello, Marcello' and -Julia's Disappearance'. 'Filip is able to take the audience on an emotional as well as a visual journey," says producer Benjamin Seikel of C-Films (Germany) GmbH. At first, Zumbrunn creates an ambience that is grey, constricted and distant. In harmony with Raimund Gregorius' emotional development, Zumbrunn opens the film out and the images and colours become increasingly vibrant.
The editor is Hansjörg Weißbrich, who received a German Film Award for his work on -Storm' in 2009. The music is written by the prolific German composer Annette Focks, whose most recent credits include Krabat and the Legend of the Satanic Mills for which she was nominated for a German Film Award in 2008.
The entire crew, as well as the head of departments and the cast, vouches for the level of quality which was required by the producers.
'The production values are extremely important to us," says producer Günther Russ. 'We are highly invested in this film and want to offer the audience something very special."
Night Train to Lisbon
Release Date: December 5th, 2013