Transit is adapted from a 1942 novel by Anna Segher portraying the desperation of refugees fleeing the invading Nazi regime.
Films about Nazism may be common, but this German film stands out. Director Christian Petzold wasn’t content to simply adapt a decades old novel; the twist is that he sets it not in the ’40s, but in an indeterminate modern time or near-future, possibly right now, and in the bone-chilling world he presents, Nazis are again on the march through Europe.
Georg, a young Jewish man, finds himself trapped in Paris as occupying Fascists tighten their grip on France. In a chance circumstance, he has acquired travel papers, in the name of a writer known as Weidel, who has committed suicide. Georg flees for Marseilles, where thousands of refugees like him await means of escape. His honest plan is to hand in Weidel’s documents at the Mexican consulate, in the hope that they’ll somehow get them to his widow.
But when the consul assumes Georg is the famous writer Weidel, and offers him safe passage and asylum in Mexico, he hesitates only briefly before assuming the writer’s identity.
The catch is that the dead writer had a wife and questions will be raised if he attempts to go solo.
His identity theft is a dangerous ruse further complicated when Georg encounters Weidel’s wife Marie – by chance or by fate? His deception takes on an ironic, almost cruel dimension, as he becomes fascinated with and initiates a relationship with this mysterious woman, even as she is looking for her missing husband whose identity he has stolen.
They fall in love with reckless abandon, but persistent danger lurks and they’re always aware of the inherent tragedy of their situation. They, and the hordes of other refugees, are caught in a terrifying limbo where no one can be trusted, trying to stay ahead of the new-age Gestapo.
Petzold brings us a raw, compelling human drama, a complex, twisty love story with a sense of urgency and despair. Through the lens of Germany’s troubled past, the movie explores present-day Fascism and anti-immigration sentiments. Petzold is less concerned with parallels to the Holocaust and keener to examine how such things could happen again in an age of millions of fleeing refugees, fear-mongering and the rise of the extreme right.
It is sadly an all too plausible concept.
Transit, with English subtitles, shows at 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 19 at the Salmar Classic.