In Christian Petzold's inventive adaptation of Anna Seghers' Marseille-set WWII novel, past and present fold in on themselves to draw parallels between the fear and paranoia of Nazi-occupied Europe and the treatment of refugees in Europe today

Film Review by Jamie Dunn | 22 Feb 2019
  • Transit
Film title: Transit
Director: Christian Petzold
Starring: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman, Maryam Zaree, Barbara Auer, Matthias Brandt, Sebastian Hülk, Emilie de Preissac, Antoine Oppenheim, Ronald Kukulies, Alex Brendemühl
Release date: 16 Aug
Certificate: 12A

Past and present collide in Christian Petzold’s inspired adaptation of Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel, Transit. At first, the German filmmaker appears to have adopted the book’s original setting of Nazi-occupied France. In Paris we meet Georg (Rogowski), a German refugee who’s fleeing south to avoid the fascist stormtroopers sweeping the city. Anachronisms in fashion, technology and cultural references (George A Romero, Borussia Dortmund's league success) soon clue us in that this is no straightforward Second World War film. But a glimpse of a German Reich passport suggests this isn't a modern retelling either.

This isn't the only discombobulating trick up Petzold’s sleeve. When Georg finds himself in possession of the papers belonging to a recently deceased Mexican writer, he adopts his identity as a means of escaping the continent. An encounter with the writer’s wife (Beer) in Marseille only adds to his guilt and confusion. The dreamlike reality is also being commented on by a mysterious third-person narrator, whose voiceover is often at odds with what we’re seeing onscreen. The result is we feel as unmoored as Transit’s characters, which only enhances the film’s empathy towards Europe’s refugees, both past and present.

Transit screens at Glasgow Film Festival – Fri 22 Feb, GFT, 6pm; Tue 26 Feb, CCA, 4.45pm