When a chance encounter with an enigmatic woman leads him to a book that inspires him to question his life, Raimund Gregorius discovers that life can change in an instant.

“Night Train to Lisbon”, directed by Bille August (“Pelle the Conqueror”), The film is adapted from the ruminative 2004 novel by Pascal Mercier (the pseudonym for Peter Bieri, a Swiss professor of analytic philosophy), an international bestseller published in more than 30 languages.

night train

Jerely Irons plays the mild-mannered, aging Classics professor Raimund Gregorius. We first encounter him in his solitary bachelor existence at home, surrounded by papers and books, playing a game of chess in which he curiously attempts to outwit himself for some added excitement, boiling the kettle and making breakfast only to find he is out of tea. He is an intellectual but none the less an everyman as he resourcefully takes a used teabag from the bin and uses it again. These opening moments poignantly evoke Gregorius’s state of mind, that he is distracted, going through the motions of a routine and predictable daily life, living in a lonely monotone limbo.

This dramatically changes one stormy morning as he walks to the university and encounters a mysterious Portuguese woman in a red coat poised to jump off a bridge. He reaches out to stop her and somehow, almost miraculously, saves her life. He brings her to his classroom, but she soon disappears leaving her coat behind. In a pocket is a book A Goldsmith of Words, the journal of an enigmatic Portuguese aristocrat and doctor, Amadeu de Prado, a Portugese doctor during  the period of António Salazar right wing dictatorship in Portugal.

irons train stationThe compelling book instantly consumes and enchants Gregorius affecting him deeply with its beautiful philosophic meditations and poetic prose that speaks to his soul and poses the very questions about everything in life that has preoccupied him for years. When a ticket for the titular night train falls from the book’s pages, Gregorius finds himself doing the first spontaneous thing he’s done in a very long time, impulsively abandoning his comfortable post as a teacher of classical studies in Bern, Switzerland,and climbing aboard the train to travel to Lisbon.

Gregorius acts as a detective in a restless and enthralling search for the life of a perfect stranger that is ultimately a search for true meaning in his own life. The close film shots of Lisbon’s steep cobbled streets, its intimate alleyways and courtyards shows off this organically alive and beautiful city and heightens the sense that Gregorius must uncover the secrets of its past. Behind the grand and crumbling facades of the buildings he is changed by his meetings with de Prado’s surviving relatives and friends and unravels the mystery. The clues to solving the mystery of the philosophy book lead to painful memories of the author’s life in the underground resistance movement during the fascist regime of Salazar, related by a deadly all-star cast of international faces.

NIGHT-articleLargeAs he puts the puzzle together, flashback scenes also vividly bring the time and place and the political and emotional intrigue of the 1970s back to life. He learns that de Prado was an extraordinary man, a person of blazing integrity, a difficult, brilliant, charismatic figure, a doctor and a poet, and a rebel against Salazar’s dictatorship. He also discovers that de Prado died very young from an aneurysm in his head. As de Prado’s story comes to light so, too, Gregorius himself begins his life anew.

Once in Portugal, he looks up the author; visits his severe sister, Adriana (Charlotte Rampling); and learns that Amadeu died in 1974 and that only 100 copies of his book were printed. The movie proceeds as a historical detective story that intersperses Raimund’s investigation with lengthy flashbacks to a past in which we meet the young Amadeu (Jack Huston), a charismatic member of the resistance to the dictatorship of António Salazar.

Jeremy MartinaA scripted mishap sends Raimund the way of sexy-older-woman optician Mariana (Gedeck), whose elderly uncle Joao (Courtenay) was, by sheer coincidence, in the resistance with Amadeu. So too was Amadeu’s former best friend Jorge (Ganz), today a grumpy pharmacist with a drinking habit. Through Mariana (Martina Gedeck), a friendly optician, Raimund meets the priest (Christopher Lee) who taught Amadeu. He tracks down Amadeu’s best friend, Jorge (Bruno Ganz) and learns of Estefania (Mélanie Laurent), a resistance fighter who was Jorge’s girlfriend until she laid eyes on Amadeu and they were instantly smitten. (August Diehl is the young Jorge.) Through Mariana (Mabruno ganzartina Gedeck), a friendly optician who assures Raimund that he is not boring, he meets her aged Uncle Joao (Tom Courtenay), another member of the resistance who fills in the story. (Marco D’Almeida plays the young Joao.)

The characters in Night Train to Lisbon are enthralling. Even those Gregorius meets only once are significant and every role, no matter how small, has substance. The performances are beautifully observed and masterfully nuanced: Jack Huston, son of the famed actor and director John Huston, gives a compelling portrayal of the passionate Amadeu, of his sensitivity and surreal other-worldliness. As the young Jorge, August Diehl encapsulates the depth of his inner turmoil and confusion; Mélanie Laurent illuminates the screen as the young Estefania, the embodiment of her youth and idealism; Charlotte Rampling evokes pathos and foreboding as Amadeu’s disconcerting sister Adriana who is frozen in time; Martina Gedeck charms as the sympathetic, supportive and openhearted optician Mariana who helps Gregorius to see more clearly both literally and figuratively.

1167155_night_train_to_lisbon_3Poignantly looking back over their lives the older actors – Tom Courtenay as the older Jaoa, an infirm fellow resistance fighter who was tortured by the police, and Bruno Ganz as the older Jorge who insists he does not trust anyone who does not take a drink and Lena Olin as the older Estefania – are particularly moving as the jealousies and misunderstandings of the past finally come to reconciliation in the present.

Directed by Bille August; written by Greg Latter and Ulrich Herrmann, based on the novel by Pascal Mercier; director of photography, Filip Zumbrunn; edited by Hansjörg Weissbrich; music by Annette Focks; produced by Peter Reichenbach, Günter Russ, Kerstin Ramcke and Michael Lehmann;

WITH: Jeremy Irons (Raimund Gregorius), Mélanie Laurent (Estefania), Jack Huston (Amadeu de Prado), Martina Gedeck (Mariana), Tom Courtenay (Joao Eca), Marco D’Almeida (the young Joao Eca), August Diehl (Jorge O’Kelly), Bruno Ganz (the aged Jorge O’Kelly), Lena Olin (the aged Estefania), Christopher Lee (Father Bartolomeu) and Charlotte Rampling (the aged Adriana).

Pras on World Films: LA RAFLE (“The Round-up”)

LA RAFLE is a fact-based drama about the 1942 Paris police roundup of 13,000 French  Jewish nationals and recent immigrants (many fleeing the Nazi regime) and their confinement in the Vel’ d’Hiv bicycle arena by French police acting under Nazi orders. The men, women, and children languished in a stadium prior to being deported to the Beaune-La-Rolande and then on to Auschwitz. The most laudable thing Bosch does, albeit with broad strokes and outsized characterizations, is intercut theLa Rafle became a huge box-office hit in France in the first half of 2010, and its audiences included thousands of young people who came to learn about a dark chapter in their country’s history.

Watch another great film on the same theme of the Vel D’Hive Roundup Incident: SARAH’S KEY (reviewed here).

On July 16 and 17, 1942, the French police, under the Vichy regime of France, on instructions from the German occupation authorities, arrested 13,152 Jews in preparation for their deportation, and crammed about 8000 of them (1,129 men, 2,916 women, and 4,115 children) into a multi-purpose stadium, the Vélodrome d’Hiver (Vel d’Hive), the winter velodrome, located not far from the Eiffel Tower.  They were held there for four days, with no food, one water faucet, no toilets, and no ventilation. The doors were locked and the windows screwed shut to prevent escape. Ultimately these Jews were deported to exterminated camps, where they were killed. Of the 13,152 Jews arrested, only about 100 survived. The incident is particularly embarrassing to France because of the number of people arrested (the largest of any French arrests during the Occupation) and the willingness and eagerness of French authorities to cooperate with the Germans, even going above and beyond their demands (the French arrested even children, even though the Germans had not asked for kids).

The stadium Vélodrome d’Hiver (Vel d’Hive) itself was demolished in 1959, and the space is now occupied by the Ministry of the Interior, the same government agency that carried out the arrests in 1942.

The screenplay for La Rafle was based on extensive research by the writer-director Roselyn Bosch and the Holocaust historian Serge Klarsfeld.

Children cry as they were being held in

France’s shameful effort to appease the Nazis is told mostly from the perspective of a young Jewish boy (Hugo Leverdez) named Jo, who is based on the accounts of a real-life survivor. Jo’s family ignores the warning signs until the dead-of-night gendarme raids, the planning of which by indifferent Vichy officials Boche occasionally shows with particularly wound-opening contempt.The family in focus are the Weismanns, with father Schmuel (Gad Elmaleh, wise-cracking but not infallible), mother Sura (Raphaëlle Agogué), sister Rachel (Rebecca Marder), and the baby of the family Jo (Hugo Leverdez), who pinches cigarettes from undernearth Nazi boots with best friend Simon (Oliver Cywie) and Simon’s little brother Nono (twins Mathieu and Romain Di Concerto). The site of the sickly yellow Magen David, the sixpoint star synonymous with the Jews, pinned to the clothing of every future victim is still enough to deliver chills.

In picturesque Montmarte, three children wearing a yellow star play in the streets, oblivious to the darkness spreading over Nazi-occupied France. Their parents do not seem too concerned either, somehow putting their trust in the Vichy Government. But beyond this view, much is going on. Hitler demands that the French government round up its Jews and put them on trains for the extermination camps in the East. The collaborators start to put the plan into effect and within a short time, 13,000 of Paris’s Jews, among them 4,000 children, will be rounded up and sent on a road with no return. The fateful date: July 16th, 1942, 68 years ago.

With a meticulously constructed script based on extensive research and first-hand accounts, writer/director Roselyne Bosch brings to the screen one of the most moving dramas of the year. Powered by fluid direction and a string of international stars- including Jean Reno (The Da Vinci Code, Leon: The Professional), Mélanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, The Concert) and Gad Elmaleh (Priceless) – La Rafle became a huge box-office hit in France in the first half of 2010, and its audiences included thousands of young people who came to learn about a dark chapter in their country’s history.

Melanie Laurent (“Beginners”) gives an inspiring performance as a gentile nurse who goes along to treat the prisoners and their children on their journey to the death camps; Jean Reno, monument of French cinema, is just right as the overwhelmed Jewish doctor trying to single-handedly treat 13,000 doomed patients. The hero is plucky, real-life Jo Weissman (Hugo Leverdez), who makes a break for it after losing his mother (the beautiful Raphaëlle Agogué), lives to a ripe old age and helps make the viewer forget what really happened.

Historical context in the film is provided by actual footage representing Hitler at his Eagle’s Nest in Berchtesgaden or the Vichy prime minister Pierre Laval signing off on the deportations.


By Phillip Valys, Staff writer at South Florida Sun-Sentinel  |  Feb 24, 2012

Rosette Goldstein, 73, of Boca Raton, is a Holocaust survivor has firsthand experience of the French roundup on July 16, 1942, which is recounted in the French drama “La Rafle” opening Friday in area theaters. The photos behind her are of her parents and of herself as a child.

Rosette Goldstein was 5 when French police rounded up her father and shipped him via railroad to the Buchenwald death camp. Goldstein, now 73 and a resident of Boca Raton, was living in Paris when French police, in the early-morning hours of July 16, 1942, thundered into homes and yanked out 13,000 Jewish men, women and children. They would be detained for several days inside the city’s indoor velodrome, malnourished and teeming with disease, before being shipped to Auschwitz and Buchenwald.

The French government’s complicity during World War II in transporting its own Jewish citizens to Nazi camps is the subject of the French film “La Rafle,” which made its South Florida debut Feb. 17 but premieres tonight at Cinema Paradiso in Fort Lauderdale.

Goldstein is one of an estimated 6,000 Holocaust survivors residing in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, said Jack Karako, the director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s southeast office in Boca Raton.

“The film is absolute truth,” said Goldstein, who watched “La Rafle” (or “The Roundup”) this past November during a Boca Raton fundraiser for the Holocaust organization March of the Living. “They arrested all the Jews on the outskirts of Paris and brought them to the Velodrome d’Hiver. There were many French who were for the deportation of Jews. It was a bad time – very, very bad.

“The only ones who survived were my mother and myself,” Goldstein added.

Roselyne Bosch, the director of “La Rafle,” said in an email that the “wound is still infectious” for roundup survivors. “There was nothing a human heart could do in front of babies being torn away from their mothers’ arms,” said Bosch, a former investigative journalist, whose film was a 2010 hit in France. “Seventy years after the facts, those children, when they miraculously survived, are now in their 80s. The velodrome was never properly shown, nor the dreadful conditions of the detainees, so I decided to go after the truth.”

Neil Friedman, the president of Menemsha Films, said he chose South Florida for the U.S. theatrical release of “La Rafle” for the tri-county’s large population of Holocaust survivors and because the SNCF, the French national railroad that transported Jews to death camps, sought a state contract in 2010 to develop Florida’s high-speed rail system.

“South Florida’s a nexus,” Friedman said. “The idea of having the French railroad competing for a contract in the same state, where there is a large concentration of Holocaust survivors is a huge irony. The railroad got paid, per head and per kilometer, for the transport of these folks to their deaths. It’s a horrible concept.”

Georges Miliband, 81, of Delray Beach, lost his mother and all three of his younger sisters during the Vel d’Hiv roundup. He survived on dumb luck: The day before, his mother had scrounged up enough money to send Miliband, then 12, to a private-school gathering 25 miles outside Paris. French police rounded up his family and transported them to the velodrome, and later, by railroad cattle car, straight to the Auschwitz gas chambers. The private school’s headmistress hid Miliband – whose surname he said was “very French and not Jewish-sounding” – and a handful of other Jewish children until the Americans liberated Paris in 1945.

Miliband said the depictions of the velodrome in “La Rafle” triggered painful memories of his siblings. “For the rest of my life, whenever I see any movies relating for the Holocaust, when I see children, I think of my sisters, and I break down,” Miliband said with a sob. “My sisters – the children – had nothing to do with the war. I always had a big problem with seeing children getting killed.”

Charlotte Gal’s “un-Jewish” surname likewise saved her, her younger brother and her mother from the Vel d’Hiv roundup. Her father had been deported from France to Auschwitz a month earlier, so her mother suspected they were next. That morning, the thud of boot steps passed right by her apartment door, so when the complex finally got quiet, they split and escaped to the French and Italian Alps. For three years, the Italian Underground helped hide the trio until Allied Forces liberated the city of Rome.

“I’m an old lady now, but it never goes away, the memories. We were the lucky ones. My mother, my brother and I were never caught,” said Gal, now 76 and living in Boca. “I remember climbing to the roof of a Christian convent when the American fighter pilots came. They threw down packets of chewing gum, but none of us knew what chewing gum was. So we ate it and when the sweetness went away, we swallowed it whole.”

Gal has not seen the movie. She’s not sure she wants to.

For Goldstein, the film showed her the charity of French gentile families, but also the horrible, stark reminders of what she lost during the roundup. “There were some wonderful, helpful people portrayed in the film, just like the farmer family who saved my life at the peril of losing their own,” she said. “But there was no doubt I was frightened. You had to become an adult very fast in those times.”

NEW YORK TIMES | July 17, 1995


PARIS, July 16 — Barely two months after taking office, President Jacques Chirac today publicly recognized France’s responsibility for deporting thousands of Jews to Nazi death camps during the German occupation in World War II.

His statement put an end to decades of equivocations by successive French Governments about France’s wartime role.

“These dark hours forever sully our history and are an insult to our past and our traditions,” he said during ceremonies marking the 53d anniversary of the first mass arrests of Jews in Paris. “Yes, the criminal folly of the occupiers was seconded by the French, by the French state.”

By his outright denunciation of the role played by both French citizens and the French state in deporting some 76,000 French and foreign Jews, Mr. Chirac went well beyond the positions of his predecessors.

For the first 25 years after the war, French leaders held Nazi Germany solely responsible for the deportations. More recently, in an argument that Jewish groups saw as sophistry, they have blamed the collaborationist wartime government based in Vichy, absolving the French state.

Mr. Chirac said today that on July 16, 1942, French police helped to round up some 13,000 Jewish men, women and children. They were crammed into the Vel d’Hiv, an indoor cycling stadium, before being interned in the Paris suburb of Drancy and then deported to death camps.

Speaking at a memorial to these victims before a small crowd that included Jewish leaders as well as some Jewish death camp survivors, Mr. Chirac admitted France’s “collective error.”

“France, the homeland of the Enlightenment and of the rights of man, a land of welcome and asylum, on that day committed the irreparable,” Mr. Chirac said. “Breaking its word, it handed those who were under its protection over to their executioners.” Of the victims, he said, “we owe them an everlasting debt.”

His remarks were warmly welcomed by Jewish leaders here. Joseph Sitruk, the chief rabbi of Paris, said he was “fully satisfied” with the President’s statement. Jean Kahn, president of the European Jewish Congress, said Jews as well as all those who fought the Nazis “must have been delighted to hear these words.” Serge Klarsfeld, a French lawyer and renowned Nazi-hunter, said “this speech contained everything we hoped to hear one day.”

Yet, even now, it may not be easy for France to turn over these black pages of its history. Just this weekend, Mr. Klarsfeld raised another difficult issue. He said the French state confiscated money, property and valuables from Jews being deported from France and then failed to return these assets or pay reparations to surviving children of deportees.

“The families of the deported never got anything back,” he said in an interview with the newspaper Liberation. “The Fourth Republic simply took their property, jewelry and objects. They stole money from parents and then did not pay it back to the children.” He added that reparations paid by postwar Germany were also not passed to children of foreign Jews deported from France. It is now time, he said, for the French state to make amends.

Another unresolved matter is the case of Maurice Papon, a former Vichy official and former Gaullist minister who is now in his 80’s. He has been charged with crimes against humanity for his involvement in deportation of Jews from Bordeaux, but his trial has been repeatedly delayed for more than a decade, raising suspicions that French judicial authorities were trying to postpone it indefinitely.

Still, by seizing this opportunity to confront France’s wartime past so soon after taking office, Mr. Chirac has shown that he is eager not only to defuse an issue that has increasingly troubled France, but also to demonstrate that he does not share the often ambivalent views of his immediate predecessor, Francois Mitterrand.

Mr. Mitterrand did not deny the role of the Vichy Government, headed by Marshal Henri Philippe Petain, in sending tens of thousands of Jews to their deaths, but he always argued that Vichy — and not France or the French Republic — was to blame. “I will not apologize in the name of France,” he said only last September. “The Republic had nothing to do with this. I do not believe France is responsible.”

Last year, however, Mr. Mitterrand’s own past became part of the debate when he admitted that, before joining the French resistance in 1943, he worked as a bureaucrat for 18 months for the Vichy regime. Further, he refused to apologize for his postwar friendship with a former Vichy police official, Rene Bousquet.

Mr. Mitterrand said he had ended this relationship in the mid-1980’s after Mr. Bousquet was charged with crimes against humanity for organizing mass deportations of Jews. But many French were dismayed that Mr. Mitterrand should have associated with a man known to be an important figure in the Vichy regime. Mr. Bousquet was murdered by a deranged gunman in 1991, before he went on trial.

In contrast, Mr. Chirac, who is 64 years old, belongs to a postwar generation of French politicians. Further, as a lifelong Gaullist, the new French President has always identified with General de Gaulle and his battle against Vichy from exile in London. And today Mr. Chirac also spoke of “the France that was never at Vichy” and that was always “correct, generous, faithful to its traditions, to its spirit.”

Yet his main purpose was clearly to look at the ugly side of France’s wartime record. “To recognize the errors of the past and the errors committed by the state and not to hide the dark hours of our history, that is plainly the way to defend a vision of man, of his freedom and dignity,” he said.

President Jacques Chirac spoke yesterday at a memorial at the site of a Paris cycling stadium where 13,000 Jews were held on July 16, 1942, before being sent to Nazi death camps. In his remarks, he fully recognized the French state’s role in the deportations, ending decades of equivocation on the subject. (Associated Press)