If you are a film goer you’ll likely love Christian Petzhold’s 2018 Transit. If you like movies you’ll find the picture a yawner. Petzhold’s movie (you can see where I’m coming from) is an adaptation of Anna Sehgers’ 1944 novel of the same name. It takes place during the period when the Nazi’s took full control of Vichy France. The movie seemingly is set in the present. The updating of the action is what you might expect from a Eurotrash director of a 19th century opera.
After the viewer gets over the temporal discombobulation of a 1940s story set in the present, the plot can be assessed according to the usual biases that an audience brings to a motion picture – here I’m attempting neutrality. Georg, who’s running from the Nazis, or a current iteration of really bad guys descending on France, ends up in Marseille trying to catch a boat to Mexico. As the ship will transit the US he needs a transit document from the US Consul. That there was no US Consul in Marseille during the overrunning of Vichy France just adds spice to the existential sauce of the film. Georg has assumed the identity of a writer who committed suicide in Paris. He also gets romantically involved with the writer’s wife who left the author, but now wants to be reunited with him
There’s a lot more, though less interesting than it may seem seem. Georg strikes up a paternal relationship with an asthmatic boy who is the son of a friend who died on an empty cargo train with him on the way from Paris to the Mediterranean port. When he seeks medical attention for the boy, whose mother is a deaf-mute – the significance of which passed me by – the doctor’s companion turns out to be the dead writer’s wife. She’s is generous with her affections. Both Georg and the doctor are on the receiving line of her emotional connections.
The rest of the film is concerned with getting the necessary documentation for everyone to leave France before the apocalypse arrives. Despite the coming doom all of the city’s residents seem unconcerned and go about their business as did everyone the year before the infectious disaster KOed the country; but that’s a different movie.
The three principals, Franz Rogowski as Georg, Paula Beer the dead author’s dead widow Marie who refuses to believe he’s deceased, and Godehard Wieser the doctor who shares a hotel room with Marie are all suitably torn about whether they should leave or stay while being laid back about their parlous condition. They are constantly attempting to leave while refusing to go.
There’s a mysterious narrator whose identity is not revealed until near the end. He turns out to be a sympathetic bartender. The first half of the film has no music which unexpectedly appears during the second. There are other bits and pieces which filmgoers will find meaningful, but which others may find extraneous or confusing. There’s a side story about a suicidal dog sitter that supposed to add meaning to the film, but which seems superfluous to me.
Reviewers, who are by definition fans of films, loved the movie and saw all sorts of existential meanings and associations. Even Casablanca was considered a stimulus to Petzhold. There’s less relationship of Transit to Casablanca as there is between Mamie Van Doren and Jean Paul Sartre. Others invoked Franz Kafka and Albert Camus. Still others found an allegorical depiction of some future tyranny about to be imposed on an unsuspecting Europe. If you regularly see faces in clouds and aced a Rorschach test, this film is for you. I wondered if placing a a 1940s story in the present wasn’t a budgetary decision. If you liked Casablanca then you’re likely to be numbered among the unwashed and would be best advised to give Bogie and Bacall another look.
I must admit that the film did keep me awake throughout. Though, I might have dozed off for a just few seconds. If you approach it knowing what’s in store it may resonate with you. Watching it with no prior knowledge left me behind for at the least the first half of the movie which is debilitating when watching a film made by a German or Teuton wannabee.