Transit (2018)

Too overly-plotted, Petzold’s attempt at revising Casablanca for the modern age—and in his own oblique style and sensibility—doesn’t come out as deeply compelling as his best works.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Review #2,218

Dir. Christian Petzold
2018 | Germany/France | Drama | 101 mins | 2.39:1 | German, French & French Sign Language
PG13 (passed clean) for brief coarse language

Cast: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer
Plot: A man attempting to escape occupied France falls in love with the wife of a dead author whose identity he has assumed.
Awards: Nom. for Golden Bear (Berlinale)
International Sales: The Match Factory

Accessibility Index
Subject Matter: Moderate – Refugees, Identity
Narrative Style: Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse

Viewed: MUBI
Spoilers: No


The weakest of his loose trilogy about ‘love in oppressive times’, which includes Barbara (2012) and Phoenix (2014), Transit doesn’t come out as deeply compelling to me even if Christian Petzold has fashioned another intriguing tale full of narrative complexities. 

Part of the reason is that it is too overly-plotted, with one too many a twist and turn.  However, if you are a committed fan of Petzold, it is worth a shot. 

A rift on Casablanca (1942) as the German auteur revises it for the modern age—and in his own oblique style and sensibility—the film sees Georg (Franz Rogowski) trying to escape occupied France as ethnic cleansing rears its ugly head in contemporary times. 

Whilst attempting to obtain transit papers to leave for the safety of Mexico, he becomes acquainted with Marie (Paula Beer), who is oblivious of the fact that her husband’s identity has been assumed by Georg. 

“Who forgets faster, the abandoned or the one who left?”

Although Marie is a key character, she doesn’t appear very often in the film, which is interesting to me as Petzold toys with the expectations of character and narrative. 

One aspect that bogs Transit down, however, is its reliant use of an unseen narrator who tells of Georg’s interactions as we are seeing it, a largely ineffective case of show-and-tell that renders Petzold’s visual storytelling less satisfying. 

A film about refugees facing impending doom—or with luck, awaiting a boat trip to a new, more tolerant world, Transit is surprisingly less suspenseful than its narrative stakes might suggest. 

Perhaps Petzold’s painting of this oppressive milieu isn’t strong enough, unlike, say, Barbara, where we could feel the context of the Cold War bearing down heavily on its characters. 

Grade: B


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