Transit review Franz Rogowski

Year: 2019
Director(s): Christian Petzold
Writer(s): Christian Petzold, Anna Seghers (novel)
Region of Origin: Germany
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: n/a
Digital, Color, 111 mins

Synopsis: A man seeking asylum finds himself caught between two worlds. (Source)

As reactive creatures of habit, our environment plays a big part of who we are. In many ways, where we call home shapes our very identity. The more confident we are about our identity, the more we’re able to carve out our own sense of purpose. Based on a novel from Anna Seghers, Christian Petzold’s Transit is a tragic portrait of life in flux. It’s a haunting depiction of what happens when we have no place to call home, or no one to relate to. Who do we become when we’re unmoored from society and a life we thought we knew? As in his previous film, Phoenix, Petzold presents people trying to rebuild in the face of unspeakable horror. Replete with a dreamlike tone and incredible performances from Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer, this film is as haunting as it gets. It pierces our conscience with a story that’s timely and impossible to ignore.

For German refugee Georg (Franz Rogowski), the walls are closing in. Amidst Nazi-occupied Europe, fascism is spreading, and many are doing anything they can to flee. Georg takes up an offer from a friend, promising a favor which leads him to assume the identity of a dead writer. Desperate to avoid an uncertain fate, Georg takes the writer’s belongings and smuggles himself to Marseille. Once there, he meets a number of people just like him. Each are hoping for safe passage while also lost in a sort of existential and physical purgatory. Georg quickly befriends the wife and son of a deceased acquaintance, a doctor, and a woman named Marie (Paula Beer), who just happens to be married to the writer that he’s impersonating. As Georg and his companions’ options narrow, each find their own ways to cope and survive.

With our own country going through a battle for civility and the treatment of refugees, Petzold refocuses the debate. Though it’s essentially a holocaust film, it doesn’t explicitly take place in a reality we recognize, blending past and present narratively through anachronistic flourishes. By telling a story caught between two worlds, Petzold creates a surreal state of suspended animation, capturing the zeitgeist in a way that hasn’t really been done before. In turn, this is a brilliantly genreless film, blending noir-esque mystery, unsettling tension, romance and a dissection of what makes us who we are. With most of the film’s ideas and plot delivered in abstract, Petzold is able to strip his characters and their world to their most primal impulses. In the end, the struggles of these characters weigh heavy on us, exposing the fleeting nature of existence and how our lives shift and evolve to a point of no recognition.

Transit review Paula Beer Godehard Giese

Keeping the complex story tethered to humanity, is an ensemble who thrives with understated precision. At the center of it all, Franz Rogowski gives the film its empathy. The story’s morality and struggle for belonging comes from Rogowski. At once, he’s able to channel desperation, hope and innocence despite resorting to some questionable acts. Rogowski has a sincerity that really hits hard. Opposite, Godehard Gies and Paula Beer throw Rogowski off center, turning in characters who feel fleshed out despite limited screen time. Maryam Zaree and Lilien Batman give the film a few moments of grace, coming in and out of Georg’s story in unexpected ways.

The story’s timeless setting allows Transit to be a reminder and a cautionary tale. It’s dreamlike and urgent, washing over us with tonal colors and inescapable emotion. Bottom line, this film couldn’t have come at a more perfect moment. Like its characters, we as a society find ourselves at the cusp of some very important decisions. Petzold’s film explores how each of us fit into a larger narrative. Everyone is grappling with their own battles. Each of us has our own story, and not one is more important than the other.

SG