Fleeing Fascism in Europe

  • by David Lamble
  • Tuesday March 19, 2019
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Georg (Franz Rogowski) and Marie (Paula Beer) in director Christian Petzold's "Transit." Photo: Music Box Films
Georg (Franz Rogowski) and Marie (Paula Beer) in director Christian Petzold's "Transit." Photo: Music Box Films

With "Transit," opening Friday, acclaimed German director Christian Petzold completes a trilogy of films that's not for everyone. As with earlier entries "Phoenix" and "Barbara," "Transit" builds slowly on European memories of the Nazi era, when desperate people would do anything to escape present-day horrors. Don't come late to this one or you'll be lost in a fog of art-house nostalgia where your mind keeps racing back to better films on the same subject. Yes, I do mean "Casablanca."

In "Transit" we meet the charming if slippery Georg (Franz Rogowski). Today's Europe has reverted to the plot of "Casablanca," where an exit visa allows the desperate to reach safe shores. Preparing to flee France in the wake of the Nazi invasion, Georg takes over the identity of a dead author whose papers he possesses. Trapped in Marseilles, he encounters a young woman eager to find her missing husband, the very man Georg is impersonating.

Petzold carves "Transit" out of a 1944 novel by Anna Seghers. The director explained his thinking on iMDB. "The transit space described by Anna Seghers in her book is a horizontal space, a geographical space, the space between Europe and the U.S. They are in the port city, thus in the space between the land where we are and the sea we want to travel over. So it's not people from the past that are ghosts, it is we who are ghost-like."

Like the first film of Petzold's trilogy, "Barbara" set in East Germany, "Transit" is most powerful emotionally during sequences where the main character puts his own grief and confusion on hold to look after a small boy in need of a substitute dad. It's most affecting when Georg takes a fatherly interest in the soccer-loving imp Driss. With Paula Beer (Marie), Godehard Giese (Richard) and Lilien Batman (Driss). In German, French and French sign language, with English subtitles.