Director: Christian Petzold
Writer: Christian Petzold
Starring: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese
In an attempt to flee Nazi-occupied France, Georg (Rogowski) takes advantage of an opportunity to assume the identity of a dead author, but finds himself stuck in Marseille, where he meets and falls in live with the author’s wife (Beer).
From just reading that synopsis, it certainly gives the impression that this film is set during the Nazi occupation of France, (and indeed the book that the film is adapted from is), but the film is supposedly set during contemporary times, with modern day clothing on characters and the roads of the cities that the film is set full of modern-day cars. I am personally not aware of why writer / director Christian Petzold decided to set this story that would initially seem very much of its particular setting in time, in a contemporary setting. This may have been a fully creative decision for whatever reason, or perhaps simply down to budget constraints, but either way this decision produces both some interesting elements to the film, but also some issues and flaws.
Despite some obvious plot contrivances (irrespective of its actual setting) Transit is a very engaging, human drama that has a gripping character-driven narrative and gives us characters to truly care about. It also develops its characters as the narrative progresses; the narrative quickly introduces characters to the viewer, and information about these characters and their backstories are slowly revealed as the narrative progresses. Contained within the narrative are also some big, universal and relatable themes such as the human need to find a sense of belonging and purpose, and the feelings of alienation, isolation and loneliness that a lack of these things can produce. These all serve to make the narrative genuinely engrossing irrespective of when it is actually set, despite a voice-over that provides narration that often has an excessive amount of novel-like exposition.
The seemingly contradicting time setting produced by the actual story and the physical scenes produces an almost disconcerting, surreal setting to the entire narrative, as at times it feels like they are at odds with one-another, making the film almost feel dream-like, and therefore one that it is impossible to be completely comfortable with. This is especially the case towards the end of the film. This does allow an extra level of engagement, as these seemingly contradicting elements means the viewer is perhaps a little on their guard, but also paying more attention and focus to what is happening within the films (often) complex narrative that features a fair few characters that come and go. Ultimately, irrespective of the time setting, a lot of the character’s basic needs are universal, and this does allow the film to be engaging on a more fundamental level. This is also helped by the superb performances by the entire cast, which only serve to enhance the fascinating complexities of the various characters that come and go within the narrative.
However, the supposedly contemporary setting does make the main story less feasible, as (though not a single mobile phone or computer is seen within the film) it would be extremely difficult for someone to pull such a stunt as our protagonist does in the 21st century. Likewise, the decision to make some of the immigrant characters of African descent does feel a little lazy and patronizing to the particular type of viewer that is likely to watch Transit.
However, despite its flaws, there is no denying that Transit is very human drama that contains enough universal themes at its core to be a genuinely engaging drama.
A slightly surreal drama at times, but certainly an engaging one; Transit has enough universal themes at its core to work as a drama with some very human and universal themes at its core, despite some of the jarring contradictions it produces.