Based on Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel and directed by Christian Petzold, Transit is a poignant and compelling blend of vintage and contemporary.
Radio technician Georg (Franz Rogowski), amid World War II, is desperate to escape the country before Nazi forces close in. Before leaving, at the request of a friend, he delivers two letters to well-known communist writer Franz Weidel.
Upon reaching Weidel’s hotel, Georg learns that he committed suicide; eager to make the matter go away, the hotel owner has arranged for a quick cremation and gives the deceased man’s belongings to Georg. These consist of the two letters (one from Weidel’s wife asking him to come to Marseille and the other from the Mexican consulate inviting him to emigrate there); travel documents; and Weidel’s final, unpublished work.
Georg sees this as a way out and assumes Weidel’s identity upon reaching Marseille. Meanwhile, he also tries to help his injured friend, Heinz (Ronald Kukulies), get to the port city. Unfortunately, Heinz dies en route and Georg is tasked with his informing his friend’s wife and son, Melissa (Maryam Zaree) and Driss (Lilien Batman).
Heinz becomes very close to Driss and strikes up a father-like relationship with him. During these events, Heinz is drawn to a woman named Marie (Paula Beer) who keeps turning up wherever he goes. The plot seriously thickens once it is revealed that she is, in fact, the wife of the dead writer whom Georg is impersonating.
One of the genuinely striking aspects of Transit is the time in which the film is set, which is still something of a question mark. It is strongly implied that World War II is in full swing, with the constant sound of police sirens and talk of armed forces sending people to concentration camps. However, modern cars and clothing are resplendent throughout while manual typewriters take the place of computers and smartphones. It’s fascinatingly bizarre and really adds wonder to the story.
Rogowski’s haunting portrayal of a lonely refugee in peril is breathtaking; every utterance leaves you wanting more. Transit, infused with Casablanca-esque qualities, is a tale of the power of romantic love and the pain that follows when it isn’t fully realized. Also notable is the light it shines on refugees and what they have to go through daily; timely and quite fitting given the current refugee crisis in Europe.
I give Transit four out of five stars.