Refugees stories. Running away from persecution, hiding from the dangers of deportation, waiting for the visas that can save lives, boarding the ship that navigates to the promised shore of salvation – here are themes that resonate deeply for me, maybe also because of personal and family stories that took place no farther than one generation before us. Transit adapted by Christian Petzold from a novel by Anna Seghers set during the second world war and directed by him takes an original approach for this set of subjects. It’s not a flawless film, but it impressed me in a very special manner.

 

source https://www.avoir-alire.com/transit-la-critique-du-film

source https://www.avoir-alire.com/transit-la-critique-du-film

 

The approach taken by script writer and director Christian Petzold is very original. The characters and narrative parts are taken from a novel by German writer Anna Seghers, a combination of stories about Jewish and German refugees running the spreading German occupation during the second world war in which fear, love and mistaken identities combine in a quite smart and interesting mix. The setting is however today’s or maybe tomorrow’s Paris and Marseille, with police cars and vans with sirens permanently howling and black-suited and helmeted armed policemen chasing the ‘illegals’ in the streets. There are some exceptions for this environment, as at some moments we seem to be in an atemporal French bistro or see the landscape of the old port of Marseille before the contemporary touristic change of face. The language used by the heroes is also a  hybrid in which literary dialogs in German mix with references to the football clubs in the 21st century Champions League. The superposition is almost didactic, but it somehow works, as the story of the love triangle (or maybe a pyramid in this case) folds on the background of the lives of the universal refugees. Some speak German, some Arabic or African languages, all are running away from the eternal police of oppression.

 

(video source Piffl Medien)

 

As many love stories in time of war the intrigue here is built of intense feelings doubled by fear, shades, hidden identities. It develops slowly but the excellent acting of Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer bring on screen a whole world of passion and ambiguities, of despair and impossible dreams. The secondary thread that connects the fate of the German refugees with the one of the ‘local’ migrants is also described in a discrete manner, avoiding the traps of melodrama. The only major flaw is the use of off-screen voice, probably reading text from the original novel that inspired the film. It is probably intended to remind us the reference work and the period when its story takes place. I find that voice over seldom works well in movies and this is not the case here. Transit tells a very important story and its production incorporates good acting and many bright ideas. It would have been better if director Christian Petzold trusted more his viewers and made some of the details of execution more discrete and less explicit.