Directed by: Christian Petzold
Written by: Christian Petzold
Starring: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Maryam Zaree
Bringing what happened to the past forward into the present can sometimes make things resonate more. It makes it harder to ignore something if we can see our reality interfacing with it. This film takes that liberty and delivers a devastating portrait of a refugee trying to survive in a fascist regime.
This film follows Georg (Franz Rogowski), a refugee on the run and avoiding being arrested by the police. He receives the task of delivering a letter to a writer, but upon reaching his destination, he finds that the recipient has died. Georg finds that the writer left behind identifying documents and papers that would promise safe passage to Mexico. Georg sees this as his opportunity to finally escape and assuming that identity wraps him up in other situations not initially on his radar.
The secret to this film’s success in my eyes lies in bringing this story to the present day. Everything feels so modern in the execution, which allows it to have more resonance. Too often do we ignore stories like this because it took place in a time before we were born. We have the belief of, “that would not happen now.” Transit shatters that idea and presents the struggles of seeking refuge and escaping turmoil into the contemporary lens. Additionally. The film really works on an emotional level. One of the unexpected reveals Georg encounters revolves around the person whose identity he takes having a spouse. Meeting her completely recontextualizes his idea of fleeing and if he would abandon her to the same peril that he seeks refuge from. The wife, Marie (Paula Beer), changes everything and the story truly then revolves around their relationship.
Plenty of emotion flows through this film and a bulk happens through the observations Georg has of others living through the fascist regime and guilt he feels about it. The film’s message rings incredibly true today and Georg’s character serves as the avatar for the audience to decide what they would do in the situations he has to encounter. For example, Georg discovers someone suffering from an illness and wants to get them help without alerting authorities because the individual has the classification of being illegal. It shows the utter anguish the individuals hiding have to endure, which makes the privilege of having the transit papers much more burdensome than Georg could ever possibly imagine.
In a world where everyone’s fate has already been decided and escape seems unachievable, these characters have to face reality and that can be difficult to succumb to. Transit terrifically presents its story and utilizes a slower degree of pacing to emphasize the weight of the decisions that Georg must make. This serves as my first venture into a Christian Petzold feature, and I am looking forward to exploring more of his work because what he achieves in this film stands out. The relationships are crucial and ultimately dictate the ways the story unfolds, which comes down to excellent screenwriting and direction. A great little film that has been overlooked widely and deserves the chance to be explored by others because of its message and how it resonates now in the current political climate about refugees in 2019.