Night Train to Lisbon (Bille August)

The anti-Ida? Merchant Ivory Ida? (These could be both positives and negatives depending on your tastes.) If Ida is committed to inferring events with the barest of dialogue, and edits that teach us to search for what is left out, this adaptation of Pascal Mercier’s novel is more committed to revealing its secrets through dialogue setpieces. But unlike Ida, this film will verbally fill in any historical gaps you might have about post-war Portuguese history, so you can lean back in your chair a bit more. And it’s a strong cast, reminiscent of Euro-pudding glory days. Irons makes much of a role that could have been played like Ida – an inscrutable listener – but which probably would have harmed this film.

One of the strongest ingredients is Annette Focks’s score, a classical epic score appropriate to our bombast-shy era. (Maurice Jarre by way of Rachel Portman, you could say.) She gives melodic presence to the ghosts and secrets that the film slowly unveils, and when the truth is set free, you can feel it in her arrangement of the main theme. The ‘piano scene’ (viewers will know it when they see it) is a nice example of how easily score and diegetic music can – at a moment’s notice – switch places and serve as the other.

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