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BERLIN 2018 Competition

Review: Transit

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- BERLIN 2018: To stick with the theme of emigrants awaiting the continuation of their journey, in abandoning a two-level approach, Christian Petzold helms a film that ends up missing the boat

Review: Transit
Franz Rogowski and Paula Beer in Transit

Oh the delightful ambiguity with which we have come to associate German director Christian Petzold from the very outset of his career, particularly in the first films presented in competition at The Berlin Film Festival (Ghosts in 2005 and Yella [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in 2007) where the games of duality that he so specialised in were even more disturbing for their psychological nature. He continued in this vein, superimposing two simultaneously evolving continuums, and creating a tension of the most intoxicating kind: mightily sensual in Jerichow [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Christian Petzold
film profile
]
, historico-existential in Barbara [+see also:
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trailer
interview: Christian Petzold
film profile
]
, and honing in on identity in the vertiginous Phoenix [+see also:
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making of
interview: Christian Petzold
film profile
]
. But Transit [+see also:
trailer
interview: Christian Petzold
interview: Franz Rogowski
film profile
]
, his latest work, the fourth of his films to be in the running for the Golden Bear, breaks with this tradition and also, sadly, with the type of audience intoxication that we have come to associate with his usual style. By restricting himself in substance to the portrayal of just one in-between state, rather than the usual two levels, the film actually ends up choosing no level at all and ultimately loses any real appeal. The voice-over narration that’s intended to guide the film doesn’t do it any favours either.

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The story takes place in Marseille, set not in any specific time-period but rather in an amalgam of several decades, within an imaginary historical context of a German occupation where certain citizens from across the Rhine, like Georg (the German winner of the Shooting Star award, Franz Rogowski), need to flee the continent by boat. In the city of Marseille where Georg is hoping to obtain a visa and where many others like him wait, drifting, with no other identifiable purpose, his path (narrowly) crosses that of a writer - who has committed suicide and whose identity Georg takes on - that of a young man called Driss and his mum, and notably that of Marie (Paula Beer), the dead writer’s wife who is looking for her husband, who has no idea that he is no longer alive, and for whom Georg’s false identity will inevitably pose a problem. There are trademark Petzold elements here, but the ensemble is totally linear: there is the potential for suspense here, but the days go by according to the same routine, we visit the same old places, and the voice-over narration that describes the various paths taken by the characters only ends up flattening them.

The refusal to adopt an in-depth approach, as is reflected in the form of this film (the idea clearly being to imitate – just as Georg is doing - the voice of the writer), stifles the potential of the characters who are, unsurprisingly, quite dull (though the impression they give of being out of place on screen is a good fit with the storyline), and the same goes for the actors’ performances, which are weak, indifferent even. "Ports are the places where stories are told", the film tells us. Of course, that’s all very well, but the text spoken by the narrator must comprise some form of literary quality, and the prose that is so relentlessly rained down upon us must possess a modicum of verve – and the final flourish, the slightly ridiculous, fleeting mirage of an epilogue, is more irritating than satiating. At the end of the day, the audience comes away from Transit with the distinct feeling of having gone nowhere.

Transit was produced by Schramm Film Koerner & Weber in co-production with Marseille-based Neon Productions. International film sales are being managed by The Match Factory.

(Translated from French)

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