His Dark Materials
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"Transit" is a complex, layered, touching story. And the manner in which is told, combined with the adaptation to the present days, really makes it difficult to forget! Recommended!
"Casablanca" minus the romanticism and 40s Noir style (or much of anything period actually). Few directors could pull off this kind of timeless evocation of the past, but Petzold correctly sees history as alive and knows how disturbingly close we always are to repeating it.
Built upon a fascinating temporal/cognitive dissonance that works well, but the narrative is painfully dull and the characters taciturn
Based on Anna Segher's 1942 novel of the same name about a German concentration camp survivor seeking passage from Vichy Marseilles to North Africa, Transit is built upon a fascinating structural conceit – although it tells the same story, it is set in the here and now. Well, parts of the milieu are from the here and now. So, although cars, weaponry, and police uniforms are contemporary, there are no mobile phones or computers, and people still use typewriters. This means that the film is set neither entirely in 1942 nor entirely in 2019, but in a temporal halfway-house, and this works well, as Petzold doesn't suggest that history is repeating itself, but rather that there's no difference between then and now. Unfortunately, aside from this aesthetic gambit, not much else worked for me.
In Paris, Georg (Franz Rogowski) is entrusted with delivering some papers to George Weidel, a communist author. However, he finds Weidel dead, having committed suicide. Taking a manuscript, two letters from Weidel to his wife Marie, and Weidel's transit visa to Mexico, Georg travels to Marseilles. When he goes to the Mexican consulate to return the belongings, he is mistaken for Weidel, and he realises he has a chance to escape, with Weidel booked on a ship sailing in a few days. As Georg waits, he has several encounters with a woman, who, it is soon revealed is Marie Weidel (Paula Beer), who is waiting for word from her husband. Not telling her that Weidel is dead, Georg finds himself falling for her.
In terms of cultural signifiers, Petzold keeps it vague, although there is a reference to Dawn of the Dead (1978), with the closing credits featuring "Road to Nowhere" (1982). However, for everything that locates the film in the 21st century, there's something to locate it in the 1940s. Along the same lines, Petzold keeps the politics generalised, with no mention of Nazis, concentration camps, or the Holocaust.
The combination of liminal elements of modernity and period-specific history sets up a temporal/cognitive dissonance which forces the audience to move beyond the abstract notion that what once happened could happen again. Instead, we are made to recognise that the difference between past and present is a semantic distinction only, and that that which once happened never stopped happening.
The other important aesthetic element is voiceover narration. Introduced as Georg begins reading Weidel's manuscript, there's no initial indication as to the narrator's identity or when the narration is taking place. Additionally, he's unreliable, as he often describes something differently to how we see it. The narration also "interacts" with the dialogue at one point – in a scene between Georg and Marie, their dialogue alternates with the VO; they get one part of a sentence and the VO completes it, or vice versa.
However, although I liked the temporal dissonance, the VO didn't work, pulling me out of the film as I tied to answer questions such as where and when is the voice coming from, are we hearing a character speak or someone outside the fabula, how can the narrator have access to Georg's innermost thoughts at some points but not at others, etc?
But the film has more problems than just the VO. To suggest the disenfranchised nature of what it is to be a refugee, Georg is a non-person; he's passive, less a protagonist than a witness. This passivity combines with a dearth of backstory and character development, whilst Rogowski plays the part without a hint of interiority. Easily the most successful scenes in the film are those showing his friendship with a young boy, Driss (Lilien Batman), because they're the only moments where he seems like a person rather than a narrative construct, they're the only scenes that ring emotionally true.
In relation to the lack of forward narrative momentum, I understand that Petzold is trying to stay true to the experience, that the life of a refugee involves a lot of waiting, repetition, and frustration. But it's the extent to which the film goes to suggest this. Yes, inertia is part of the theme, but it doesn't follow that the film needs to be so unrelentingly dull.
Easily the most egregious problem is one that arises from a combination of these issues – it's impossible to care about any of the characters. There's no pathos; none of them have any psychological verisimilitude or interiority, and they simply never come alive as people.
An intellectual film rather than an emotional one, Transit is cold and distant. The temporal dissonance works well, but it's really all the film has going for it. Petzold says some interesting things regarding the experience of refugees in the 21st century vis-à-vis refugees of World War II, and the mirror he holds up to society isn't especially flattering. If only we could care about someone on screen. Anyone.
This is a real winner that deserves lots of attention
Disjointed and narratively unsatisfying, with the behaviour of the muse in particular increasingly hard to fathom. And the 21st century transplant felt like a cheap method to keep the costs down that didn't work either. Disappointing.
Extraordinary movie. Compelling story. Beautifully acted by Franz Rogowski. Beautiful characterisation of the complex human psychic. Truly genius.
Not as mesmerizing and concrete as the other two pieces in the trilogy but it had some more subtle, chilling moments
Although I quite liked German director Christian Petzold's last two films "Phoenix" and "Barbara", I just found his latest movie to have too many obtuse layers to be an effective drama. Certainly, the theme of the Nazis advance into France and closing in on the port city of Marseilles with desperate people trying to escape would have made for quite the drama. But I would have to say, for me, the film, despite its foreboding atmospherics, just became too clever and complicated for its own good. All in all, a disappointment from Petzold.
horrible, pretentious, dull drivel. infuriatingly bad and a waste of two hours.
Sublime movie. Every scene is intense and poetic. Every character is well developed