August 14, 2019
In Christian Petzold’s superbly deft drama, a fugitive steals someone else’s identity with deeply disturbing results
Transit review – brilliant existential thriller works like a dream | Peter Bradshaws film of the week
Christian Petzold is the film-maker renowned as a modern master of suspense and a poet of Germany’s divided self. Of his recent work, I loved his Stasi thriller Barbara (2012) but put myself in a minority of one by objecting to a serious plot hole in his hugely admired postwar noir Phoenix (2014) – a plot hole that I couldn’t accept was unimportant, or conversely some anti-realist stylisation. Well, now I have to admit that Petzold has shown himself to have a flair for just this kind of anti-realism or quasi-realism in his new and rather brilliant film, Transit. Its experimental premise was alienating for me at first, but its mysterious, dreamlike quality began to surround me like mist.
Petzold has adapted a 1944 novel by the anti-fascist German author Anna Seghers about a fugitive German in Paris who has escaped a concentration camp and flees to Marseille at the time of the Nazi invasion. He has been entrusted with delivering a letter to a renowned author sympathetic to the anti-Nazi resistance, but on discovering that this man is dead, he steals the writer’s identity papers and two visas for him and his estranged wife that would allow them safe passage abroad. Once in Marseille, he passes himself off as this writer, which embroils him in a romantic and political crisis.
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