Transit (2018)

CHRISTIAN PETZOLD

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.  

Germany/France, 2018.  Schramm Film, Neon Productions, Arte France Cinéma, ZDF/Arte, Medienboard Berlin-Brandenburg, Beauftragter der Bundesregierung für Angelegenheiten der Kultur und der Medien, Filmförderungsanstalt, Centre National de la Cinématographie, Région Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur.  Screenplay by Christian Petzold, based on the novel by Anna Seghers.  Cinematography by Hans Fromm.  Produced by Antonin Dedet, Florian Koerner von Gustorf.  Music by Stefan Will.  Production Design by Kade Gruber.  Costume Design by Katharina Ost.   Film Editing by Bettina Bohler National Board of Review Awards 2019. North Carolina Film Critics Awards 2019. Toronto International Film Festival 2018.

Christian Petzold follows films about Germany under socialism and World War II with a tale of France under modern-day fascism.  With Paris falling to occupation by a new oppressive government, citizens are rushing to European ports in a desperate attempt to get visas to other parts of the world.  Franz Rogowski is given a package to deliver to a writer in Marseille, but when he gets there he discovers that the man is dead and, having been mistaken for him by the authorities, Rogowski now has the opportunity to leave using his documents.  While awaiting the date of his departure, he befriends a young boy whose mother is waiting for her husband to return, then when the boy falls ill Rogowski goes in search of a doctor whose mistress (Paula Beer) turns out to be the wife of the man that he is impersonating.  Based on a novel set during World War II, Petzold presents an indistinct era that looks but isn’t exactly contemporary with the film’s release, presumably meant to comment on modern-day Europe’s moving back towards extreme right-wing politics.  Having it seem present day while avoiding present-day technology feels confusing and incongruous, smartphones and social media have played an integral role in permitting the rise of xenophobia in the time that Petzold is making this movie, and avoiding their presence in a film that has a throwback feeling to it, not to mention a conclusion stolen from Casablanca, makes it feel a lot more naive than it does incisive or shrewd.  There are a number of powerful sequences, but the truly egregious choice of including narration delivered by a peripheral character makes it feel like preachy allegory.  Rogowski gives an opaque performance that provides little insight to his character, while Beer does her best with a character who veers between being sometimes emotionally decisive, and at other times is possibly insane.  The best moments come from a brilliant supporting performance by Barbara Auer as a woman whose possession of two dogs belonging to American tourists provide her only hope for escape.

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