Transit (2018)
January 1, 2020 11:17 PM - Subscribe

In an attempt to flee Nazi-occupied France, Georg assumes the identity of a dead author but soon finds himself stuck in Marseilles, where he falls in love with Maria, a young woman searching for her missing husband. Directed by Christian Petzold.

Franz Rogowski stars as Georg, a German in Paris during an increasingly tense and violent occupation. Seghers’ book was released in 1944 and set in 1942, so the story at that time was about the Nazis, but Petzold boldly chooses to update the story to modern times without really clarifying the threat. We just know that people are being rounded up and the country is increasingly unsafe. Before we’ve even seen the title card, police sirens have been heard three times. There’s a sense of dread and urgency that’s amplified by leaving the threat as undefined as active police cars in the street and enhanced discussion of things like travel papers. Especially with our current state of the world and its threats of violence amidst increased polarization, the themes of “Transit” have added resonance by making this a ‘10s story instead of a ‘40s one.

Brian Tallerico: Rogowski elevates the film by nailing a very difficult part—it’s purposeful that Georg is in every scene in that it adds to the overall sense of confusion to limit our perspective to only his. Instead of presenting Georg as the cipher he could have easily become, Rogowski makes fully three-dimensional a protagonist who feels both classical in his Kafkaesque dilemma and yet also relatable in his emotions and actions. It’s a great performance.

As he did with “Phoenix,” Petzold completely sticks the landing, concluding with an almost mirror image of his last film’s perfect closing shot. It’s an ending that is both hopeful and uncertain. In other words, it captures the tone of a film about a man stuck between Heaven and Hell, and the stories he becomes a part of while he’s there.

Michael Phillips:As Georg learns, Marseille is like the Casablanca of “Casablanca,” marching to a different beat. Everyone’s scrambling to get out, but it’s slow-motion scrambling and stasis, full of long waits in line at the consulate office. The late Weidel’s widow, Marie (Paula Beer), does not know she’s a widow, and searches in vain for her husband. Inadvertently she seems to be shadowing Georg, from consulate office to café. Soon (this is the corny part) Georg is in love.

Meantime he strikes up a friendship with a Northern African boy, Driss (Lilien Batman) in the Maghreb quarter of Marseille. In a knotty coincidence, the late Weidel’s widow has become the lover of another one of Georg’s acquaintances, a doctor (Sebastian Hülk) hustling to arrange his own transit visa. Who is Marie, really? How long will Georg maintain the ruse of his identity?

Peg Aloi: Georg is captivated by Marie’s beauty, her air of sadness and hope. He also feels responsible for her fate, since he was forced to leave her husband behind. Strangely, Georg isn’t able to plan for his own escape once he becomes intimately aware of the fragile plights of others. It is as if he is sustained by his own acts of kindness, strengthened by acts of humanity at a time when people are literally being hunted in the streets.These two actors mesh well together, effortlessly generating a compelling chemistry borne of a shared sense of unease and immediacy.

As seen in his previous films, Barbara (2012) and Phoenix (2014), Petzold is a filmmaker with a deep interest in the history and emotional legacy of his native culture. His films explore troubled eras in Germany’s past, ranging from the world wars and the Eastern Bloc to contemporary issues of rising white nationalism. With Transit, set in a time and place that looks and feels very much like the present, Petzold explores why the ghosts of Europe’s troubled past are stirring once more. Perhaps it is only by walking alongside these restless and relentless spirits that we might begin to understand why we won’t let them stay buried.

posted by Carillon (3 comments total)
I really loved the relocation of the timeline to a seemingly more modern era. It really brought home to me how universal the themes are, and how much it can happen here isn't just a slogan.
posted by Carillon at 12:45 AM on January 3, 2020

I saw this without knowing much about it and thought it was excellent. At first I was slightly confused because we are dropped into things in medias res, but by the end I was riveted. I agree about the modern day setting; it made the film very powerful because of course anyone who sees it can’t help but draw parallels to what’s happening in the world today.

Out of the director’s three films, I think I liked Phoenix best, but this one is excellent too.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:05 AM on January 5, 2020

The story wound itself up so beautifully. I expected nothing less - I feel bad for anyone who hasn't seen Petzold's work before.

The fact that he goes back to the second world war and draws the obvious connections between refugees today (and no doubt in 2017 or so when he would have been writing the script it was especially significant a point) is nicely done - there is an outside force that threatens everyone, almost equally.

At the same time, the film never felt ponderous, despite working with very earnest themes.

(He also did a (among other) fantastic episode of "Polizeiruf 110" - a German cop show that started in the DDR - "Wölfe". To be honest I don't know how one would see it, but if it should happen to flit across your screen, it's worth watching: If only for Matthias Brandt and Barbara Auer's acting. (Auer is, in "Transit" the woman with the dogs, Brandt the bartender and narrator.)
posted by From Bklyn at 6:37 AM on August 27, 2020

« Older Doctor Who: Spyfall, Part 1...   |  Movie: Cop Car... Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments