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Berlinale Bloggers 2018
Bringing the past into the present

On the road
On the road | © Schramm Film / Marco Krüger

‘Transit’ dives into the wandering and waiting that comes with war and unwanted control. Patient, probing, and poetic in both its affairs of the heart and its worries of the soul: as always, a film by Christian Petzold is a film of intricately layered artistry.

By Sarah Ward

Filled with ruminative aesthetics to match his contemplative emotional and existential concerns, the German writer/director doesn’t venture beyond his usual domain with Transit, but unlike the scenario facing his characters, it’s a welcome development.


Based on the 1944 novel of the same name by Anna Seghers, Transit dives into the wandering and waiting that comes with war and unwanted control, as evident in the German-occupied France of its setting. After narrowly avoiding the authorities both in Paris and on his journey to Marseilles, Georg (an exceptional Franz Rogowski) now counts down the days until he can leave for Mexico. Securing his passage out of the country isn’t easy, however; to obtain a visa to board a ship out of town, he’s forced to assume the identity of a writer, Weidel, who no longer has use for the relevant paperwork.

Actors Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski Actors Paula Beer and Franz Rogowski | © Schramm Film / Marco Krüger As he bides his time, Georg keeps crossing paths with the mysterious Marie (Paula Beer) on the street. She’s clearly looking for someone, but is finding solace in the arms of a doctor, Richard (Godehard Giese), in the interim. With shades of Casablanca evident, their complicated web of affection, friendship, survival and the yearning to escape is just one of the matters attracting his attention, with Georg also striking up a bond with Driss (Lilien Batman), the young son of one of his fallen friends.


Accordingly, the longer Georg awaits his transit papers, the stronger his ties to Marseilles’ growing refugee community become. In bars, cafes, corridors and on the streets, he’s surrounded by the similarly adrift — and while the details of their specific situations may change, they’re all stranded and desperately clinging to their hopes of moving on. Indeed, when Georg is told a parable about the hell of purgatory, there’s no missing the parallels with his own plight, even if he doesn’t immediately recognise it himself

Production photograph Production photograph | © Schramm Film / Marco Krüger As gorgeously, movingly, intimately rendered as Petzold’s latest account of war’s heartbreaking impact proves, with Transit a worthy successor to Barbara and Phoenix, a simple choice makes the movie all the more resonant. Though the source material was clearly steeped in the Second World War, and the setting evokes that immediate impression, Transit is also a film passing through time. Filled with echoes of the past but actually taking place in the present, it’s a feature acutely and astutely cognisant of the way that history painfully repeats. In fact, its frames overflow with that very realisation, splashed across Rogowski, Beer and Giese’s expertly conflicted faces.