December 09, 2019

Review Transit (2018)

“TRANSIT” (2018)
By Christian Petzold | Germany, France
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Holocaust films are nothing new. Ever since the horrible tragedy occurred, we have witnessed and relived the experience of the infamous genocide — or at least a meager immitation of it — through books, films, and TV shows alike. “Transit”, the 1944 novel by the reknown Anna Seghers, is amongst the first of such stories, acting almost as a direct account of the tragedy from a first hand witness. Seghers is afterall known for writing moral experiences from the second world war, which is greatly felt here in the story of a german seeking to flee nazi occupied France. But will a film that echoes Seghers’ work be as effective as it were then? After the waves of holocaust films people grew tired of?
Thankfully, director Christian Petzold doesn’t think so and thus chose to add a twist to the story. Instead of mimicking the horrors of the past, Petzold’s “Transit” is instead set on the current present; completely ignoring the actual course of history. He realized that when we watch films that replicate the nazi era of world war II, we often take it for granted. We saw it enough times and know it all our lives that we only write it off as just another unfortunate part of our history and nothing truly relevant for our current state. By subverting that, Petzold gave the familar story an urgency; a familiar face to ground the horrific events of our past with our present. Which makes for some eerily dystopian feeling, one you might find in films like “Children of Men” and other pessimistic science fiction ideas. It is a more powerful picture than the many period piece we had to suffer through all this years; a pleasant surprise that elevates the film to something refreshing.
Despite its modern setting however, it’s worth noting how classical Petzold’s “Transit” really are. It’s romance for starters, feels like it’s ripped straight out of a 40s melodrama (which it technically is). The two romantic leads, Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer, is key to landing the tone of the writing which balances overdramatic expressions of love with the stoicism of post-war european cinema beautifully. Rogowski is especially brilliant with his deadpan yet subtly emotional performance — it’s hard not to see him as the german version of a young Joaquin Phoenix. Praises are also due to cinematographer Hans Fromm, for the picture of this alternate europe he managed to paint; a beautiful collection of a postcard photo but with a fascist authoritarian presence mixed on to it.
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“Transit” shows a clever way to turn history to a crytal ball that shows a possible future; changing a past tragedy to a cautionary tale, with beautiful visuals and poignant performances. If anything “Transit” may just the answer to “Casablanca”: less dramatic speeches with string orchestra and more moral dilemma in a time of human deprecation.
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