Set in seemingly contemporary times, a man who belongs to a persecuted minority attempts to escape from fascist-run France to America but falls in love with the wife of a dead author whose identity he has assumed.
Set in modern times, but adapted from a novel set during the Second World War, Christian Petzold’s latest feature is a mildly intriguing story of a man who steals another’s identity in order to escape from a totalitarian France. It is adapted from a 1942 novel, written during the Second World War and based on the author’s (Anna Seghers) experiences at that time, and it’s an interesting choice to bring that story into a modern setting, transposing the Nazi occupation for current day France. The film drops you right into the middle of a situation that we don’t fully understand at first, perhaps to mirror the experience of Georg (Franz Rogowski), who may not truly comprehend the events happening around him.
Georg is our viewpoint into this political climate, but Petzold is far more interested in personal interactions and how Georg navigates this environment than in the details that led him and many others to attempt to flee Europe. Georg belongs to a persecuted minority which remains unstated, and we first meet him as he escapes Paris for the port city of Marseille, where the opportunity to leave Europe for a better life may be available. He, and many others, require transit papers to be allowed to stay in Marseille, and then to subsequently travel on. In Georg’s case, he has assumed the identity of a writer called Weidel who committed suicide, and he must maintain this façade in order to get on a ship. This isn’t Petzold’s first film to deal with the nature of identity after ‘Phoenix’, and in ‘Transit’, we see Georg come across various people including the widow and son of a deceased friend, as well as the real Weidel’s now widow, who he develops an attraction for.
There’s a lot going on here and some of the themes are interesting, but I wasn’t fully captivated by it or by Franz Rogowski’s performance in the central role. The decision to transport the story to a modern dystopia left it feeling untethered to any real events and I think I’d have enjoyed it more if the film had elaborated on the political climate of its setting to enhance the personal stories Petzold is focusing on. ‘Transit’ is a strange, unsettling film about the experience of being made statelessness, but I never fully connected with it despite admiring certain elements of Petzold’s filmmaking.
Directed By: Christian Petzold
Starring: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Maryam Zaree, Ronald Kukulies and Lilien Batman