Despite often trafficking in dark themes in his films — his last three films all center around seemingly normal people whose lives are ravaged by corrupt and often evil governments — filmmaker Christian Petzold’s real skill is couching seemingly understandable stories and emotions in thrillingly complex narratives. There are always secrets at the heart of his films, but they are beguiling and unique twists, never shoved into stories for the hell of it, always essential to the entire experience he’s attempting to give to his audience.
A Petzold feature is best enjoyed with the minimum of existing information, which makes the first trailer for his “Transit” such a joy. While “Transit” is based on Anna Seghers’ novel of the same name, knowing what happens in that book — written in 1944, set in 1942 — doesn’t dilute the imaginative power of the film, which Petzold pulls out of time to be, well, timely and not at all rooted in the World War II environs of Seghers’ story. And yet the film can’t exist without them, even as it slips between now and then, finding terrifying parallels at every turn.
In his Berlin review, IndieWire’s David Ehrlich wrote of the film and its hero, “The inscrutable hero of an inscrutable film that unfolds like a remake of ‘Casablanca’ as written by Franz Kafka, Georg has just escaped occupied Paris by the skin of his teeth, stowing away on a train to the port of Marseille. … Georg’s only hope for safe passage to Mexico is to assume the identity of a writer named Weidel, who committed suicide and left behind his visa papers. Georg’s ship is scheduled to sail in three weeks, but who knows what that means in a nightmare like Marseilles, where the only people welcome are those who can prove they’re leaving, and even the year is impossible to determine. And so we arrive at the driving conceit behind Petzold’s beguiling ‘Transit’ … The film is unstuck in history.”
Music Box Films will open the film in select theaters starting on March 1. Check out IndieWire’s exclusive trailer and poster for “Transit” below.