Friday Film Review - "Transit"

Apr 26, 2019

Not even a road map will help viewers of the foreign film “Transit” on their trip.

German writer and director Christian Petzold, most recently known for the 2014 Holocaust film, “Phoenix”, has a new film, “Transit”, which continues his look at the Third Reich.

 Georg is a young German who is currently in France. During a conversation at a bar with another German, the idea that the two are in Nazi occupied France starts to materialize. Georg is asked by the other man to deliver two letters to a writer by the name of Weidel. He finds Weidel’s hotel room only to discover that the man has committed suicide. Georg gathers up some of Weidel’s belongings and takes off. He meets up with a friend and the 2 hop a train to Marseilles in hopes of getting on a boat, which will eventually get them to Mexico and safety. Between the train trip and his short time in Marseille, Georg lives a whole lot of life in a number of different roles. The subject of this film is one well known to most of us, so we are able to envision the general look of this film just knowing that it is about the Nazi occupation of France. Just be warned, however, this is not director Petzold’s style. In adapting the 1944, novel of the same name by Anna Seghers, Petzold has changed the setting from WWII France, and put it in a current time with contemporary cars and clothes. Right away, this is a huge jolt to the viewer, who is left scrambling to make sense of things. In some ways, given the world’s current events, this is a way of opening up the story for everyone. After all, occupation and other atrocities are not restricted to just the Nazis during WWII. In stripping the story of its original time frame, Petzold has indeed created a story that, unfortunately, reflects much of what is happening around us today. History does seem to repeat itself. The actors, not really known to US audiences, seem to do a good job, but since “Transit” is in French and German, with subtitles, it is hard to say much about their performances. It can be said though, that the subtitles are well done. The French titles are accurate, so I would imagine the German ones are as well. This fact does mean that the viewer can get the details and not feel as though the titles have left them deprived of key points, that is if they understand what is going on. Unfortunately, “Transit” is missing something. One problem is the lack of fear and tension that one would imagine exists during an occupation. Throughout, people seem to move around easily and freely, unaware of anything amiss except during a few brief specific events. Even most of those, however, seem to be rather void of emotion. Another issue is the constant unease the film creates. Some have claimed, this is an intentional effect on the director’s part, so the audience can connect with those who find themselves in such tragic situations throughout the world. On the flip side, it could be because the viewer can’t make sense of the story and is totally lost. The latter not only leaves the viewer confused but can leave said viewer to wonder if he or she had unknowingly dozed off at key moments. “Transit”, it turns out, is the last film in what Petzold calls his “Love in the time of Oppressive Systems Trilogy”. Perhaps having seen the other films, “Barbara” and then “Phoenix”, “Transit” would have made more sense…maybe. While some applaud the daring approach of this film and claim it is “riveting”, this reviewer and others in the audience were motionless and silent at the end, finally daring to ask one another, “Did that make any sense to you?” “Transit” is not rated and is a very confusing 1 hour and 41 minutes that you will never get back.