Chew's Reviews - Transit

By Gary Chew |  

A foreign film from 2018 is out now in the U-S. It's in French and German and titled TRANSIT. Three sell lines of major film commentator wags pumping this Christian Petzold film caught my eye. Here they are: “Like CASABLANCA written by Kafka”; “Turns history into an existential maze” and finally “Present and past feel like they exist simultaneously.” Such a heavy load for only one movie, and with a mere one-hundred minutes in which to do it.

Aided by the excellently cut trailer for TRANSIT, I spied in it the female lead (Paula Beer); a very fine actress seen not long ago in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck's superb NEVER LOOK AWAY. That was enough to fetch me to see this Petzold picture, its subject being about harried, wannabe immigrants as they try to flee a dangerous nation, as is the case currently in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

But, Petzold wanted his film to be set in the roiling WWII occupation of France perpetrated by Fascists about the time Nobel Prize-winning Algerian-born author Albert Camus edited COMBAT, that polemic French newspaper remembered for publishing a harsh opinion that took Germanic intruders to task.

The bad guys in Petzold's adaptation of a WWII novel by Anna Seghas --- a German Jew of communist persuasion, --- are the same Fascists Ms. Seghas fled from in 1940. One would think she should know a lot about the emotions of such duress. Her novel is titled TRANSIT VISA. But, Petzold wanted his picture to present with a sense of timelessness. Maybe that was to bring a more modern focus on our current border crisis/circus to the south … not to mention other parts of the world.

It's not Casablanca on the Atlantic, but Marseille on the Mediterranean. Hitler's power is marching on into the south of France. But you'd swear it's ... maybe ... 2005 or 2006. Marseille is so contemporary! People dress like folks you see in public now. Having to keep reminding myself that the story is really truth that came from the Forties but applied to now, made following the weak flow of the plot nearly impossible. With the submerged absurdity and existential angst that lurks in Petzold's script, sell line number two referred to up in the first paragraph appears, unfortunately, to be the best description for TRANSIT … a maze, indeed, that otherwise might have been something on an approach to amazing.

Abruptly, a German Language narrator pops up about halfway through the film. It took time to realize the narration isn't actually being spoken by the male lead, Georg (Franz Rogowski), but a bartender at work in a Marseille hotel. The bartender, only fleetingly established in the screenplay, is a role without any significance. Maybe this is a nuance of Seghas's written page … I don't know.

That reminds me to say, I wish the subtitles could have been less fleetingly posted. Maybe the actors could have delivered their lines with less urgency.

Rogowski has a face the camera likes to look at. I say “look at” since the actor, to a degree, resembles Joaquin Phoenix; maybe a “brother part” for each gentlemen in an upcoming motion picture.

My guess would be that Seghas's novel is the key to knowing better what Petzold has provided in the adaptation. Near the end, what's happening came off to me as being ... suddenly ... dreamlike and that, possibly, Georg is merely fantasizing his labored attempts to get to … yes ... Mexico! ... and whether he's with or without the lovely wife of the deceased polemic author Georg has been impersonating in order to escape the dread of 1940's Fascism … or is it the early 21st century? Anyway, Mexico is where Georg wants to find safe haven. And I don't whether Mexico wants to pay his fare there or not.

Copyright © 2019 by Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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