The Means And The Ends;
Who Are We Supposed To Be?
Often, when I get out of a movie theater, I immediately start taking notes for my review, as I usually have a lot of thoughts that I don’t want to lose as I go to sleep. This time, however, I intentionally avoided doing so, because I had a feeling it was the kind of film that would creep up on me once I’d had time to digest it. I was right, and I’m glad I waited, because I have a clearer picture after sleeping on my thoughts.
This is a very, very well-made film with a lot to like. As a German language “period” drama, it will likely not find much of an audience in America, but hopefully people will find it once it eventually releases on streaming services. It gives you a lot to consider, and does so a bit sneakily. It takes a novel written by Anna Seghers in 1942 about the Nazi invasion of France and updates it into our current time frame, but does so in quietly ominous ways. There is no mention of Nazis, instead we just hear whispers of “the occupation” happening city-by-city. There is a war, but we never see fighting. The most we get are seemingly random police raids and deportations, but there is very little violence. The people in the cities we see are remarkably calm, despite something looming large overhead. It speaks to our willingness to ignore problems when deemed as those of someone else, and not truly care until we are personally affected. Illegals are seeking means of getting out of France, and characters often run into each other multiple times while waiting for a window to escape. They form bonds, whether temporary or (hopefully) permanent, which are tested in various ways that add a lot of emotional depth to the film.
Christian Petzold presents us with something that looks sunny and bright, despite seriously dark implications. It’s a bold film in that regard because it always keeps you guessing about what you’re seeing. How much can you trust your eyes and ears in a picture like this? Franz Rogowski shines in the protagonist role, appearing in every scene and nearly every shot. You are seeing things from his perspective, while hearing a separate narrator tell the story. Again, the idea of what is really real sticks in your mind. As Georg, he is hopelessly romantic at times, but at the expense of some very bad deeds. He is resilient but still fragile, both selfish and selfless, depending upon the circumstances. Rogowski does a wonderful job with a complicated role in a challenging film.
This film speaks to past, present and potential future at the same time. It overtly references WWII, draws parallels to the hardships faced by immigrants in the modern world, and acts as a cautionary tale of where we could find ourselves very soon. It’s a very interesting update to its source material, presents a powerful version of a “love story,” and asks some deep questions. With a wrenching twist late in the film and a pitch-perfect closing shot, this is a very good film for those will find it accessible.
Transit is Written and Directed by Christian Petzold