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TIFF: Christian Petzold returns with "Transit"

Nathaniel R reporting from the Toronto International Film Festival

Fans of the haunting post-war German drama Phoenix (well loved right here), will want to check out the latest from one of Germany's greatest directors Christian Petzold. Like PhoenixTransit is a story of lives tragically ruined by war and new identities emerging from the rubble. Transit isn't as much of an eery mystery as Phoenix, but it plays with similar themes. Our protagonist Georg played by the arresting, highly watchable Franz Rogowski (Happy End) initially appears to be an opportunist, doing two dangerous jobs for cash involving personal letters or actual transport for desperate people trying to escape attention in Germany on their way out of the country, and stealing another man's identity as his own ticket out. But our first impression is quickly complicated...

In short order Georg is willingly wrapped up in multiple dramas involving other desperate refugees and often postponing his own escape to help them. Arriving in Marseilles he immediately becomes protective of a young sickly boy and his deaf mother. He takes a jaded unpleasant woman (memorably played by Barbara Auer) to lunch when she can't afford a meal. Narratively the fulcrum is his entanglement in an adulteress affair between a doctor (Godehard Geise) and the mysterious Marie (Paula Beer from Frantz) continually searching for her dead husband to naturally no avail. 

Though the movie's drama builds through its accumulation of all too familiar human troubles, its tragic undertow is the timeliness of the crises on display. Petzold's best move in Transit is displacing us in time. The screenplay is adapted from a World War II novel, but Transit, despite its allusions to Nazis and specific geography, both literal and hopeful (Germany to Marseille to US to Mexico) comes with no period trappings... and very little in the way of identifiable locations. This Marseilles could be any port city. Georg could be anyone who becomes someone else to survive. There are surely other lost Maries, searching for loved ones they will never find. This story was first told in the 1940s but it could be happening anywhere and at any time to anyone. The great tragedy is that it is happening right now. And it will again.

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Reader Comments (6)

I want to see it NOW, in spite of its NinaHosslessness.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

excited, i loved Phoenix big time

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered Commenterhuh

If you're still in Toronto it means you didn't vote for Cynthia so now your actressexual license is revoked.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I really liked that it built a world but trusted the audience enough to fill in enough of the blanks to not have to spend the time doing it for them.

September 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Just saw this a few hours ago, and not sure if it's good.

But I'm not sure it's not great. There's so much in this. It needs to be rewatched.

March 26, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMe

I saw this today and found it remarkable. Tremendous pace from the beginning and never lost my attention or interest. I was always trying to figure out what was going on and where it was going. Great acting all around and beautifully filmed. Universal themes resonate and I like the decision to mask the time period so that it could be anytime. Aren't we all in transit to what is next?

April 1, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMike C

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