Transit (2018)

Transit (2018)

Christian Petzold’s boldly experimental approach to a WWII story makes for an eerie masterpiece

The Very Best

8.8

Movie

France, Germany
French, German
Drama
2018
CHRISTIAN PETZOLD
Àlex Brendemühl, Antoine Oppenheim, Barbara Auer
102 min

TLDR

It's high praise to compare a movie to Casablanca, but Transit — in its own unique way — is worthy of it.

What it's about

Desperate to get out of occupied France, refugee Georg (Franz Rogowski) accidentally assumes the identity of a man authorized to leave the country, but his escape is complicated when he meets a mysterious woman (Paula Beer).

The take

Transit is based on a WWII novel — though you wouldn’t be able to tell from first glance. While the characters talk of German fascists occupying France, anachronistic details (like modern technology and clothing) suggest we haven’t gone back in time at all. Director Christian Petzold isn’t trying to confuse us: by blurring the backdrop, he’s making the terror and the desperation of the story more immediate — removing the distance that might have prevented us from really feeling what happens.

The uncanny historical echo effect works as intended, because the parallels Transit subtly draws between the past and today are horribly clear. What’s more, the movie’s intentionally ambiguous framing suffuses the plot with an otherworldly sense of mystery, a quality that gradually intensifies as Georg (Franz Rogowski) desperately searches for a one-way ticket out of hellish bureaucratic limbo before he finds himself waylaid by that most mysterious emotion of all: love. Unshakably haunting and undeniably poignant, this is a movie that will live under your skin.

What stands out

Transit recalls so many movies — particularly WWII-set films like Casablanca — and yet feels so utterly original, a feat accomplished not just by the plot or mise-en-scene but also by Rogowski’s breakout lead performance. He has the all-too-rare screen charisma of a Golden Age star, but he plays Georg with a very modern recognition of the acute vulnerability of his character. He consistently shoulders so much of the film’s ambitious meaning — and with only limited dialogue to boot — making for a marvelous performance that is perhaps best encapsulated by his work in Transit’s powerful final shot.

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