Nothing exciting ever happens to Swiss professor Raimund Gregorius (Jeremy Irons). He spends his days droning on about language to disinterested students, and his nights playing solitary games of chess. Rinse, wash, repeat. Then one rainy morning, he saves a lady in red (Sarah Bühlmann) from taking a headfirst dive off a bridge. She leaves behind her coat, which contains an obscure book by Amadeu do Prado (Jack Huston), a Portuguese author who lived during the Salazar dictatorship, as well as a train ticket to Lisbon. Nothing ventured: off Gregorius goes to unravel the mystery of this enigmatic writer as well as to jump-start his own humdrum life.
Don’t expect much of an adrenaline rush, however, from Bille August’s monumentally dull adaptation of Pascal Mercier’s bestselling philosophical novel. The story hops frequently between past and present, and features spy plots, a love triangle, heady discussions with a beautiful optician and a terrific-in-theory Europudding cast (Christopher Lee, Bruno Ganz, Lena Olin, Charlotte Rampling, etc.). Yet tedium quickly sets in, especially after it becomes clear that all the historical and intellectual intrigue is a perfunctory pretext for Gregorius (a self-described ‘bore’) to cast off the midlife shackles and embrace his inner romantic. Take the last train to anywhere but here.