A Tale of War, Lies, Love and Occupation
DIRECTOR: CHRISTIAN PETZOLD/GERMAN/2018
Georg (Franz Ragowski) is approached, while in a Paris cafe, by a friend, told to deliver two letters to a writer named Weidel. Weidel is dead, Georg soon after learns. He killed himself, which is fortunate for Georg. Unfortunate for Weidel .
For Georg now has a new identity, that he can slip in and out of. With it, he is able to escape to Marseilles. He is able to start over again. He has a connection with a woman, who seems to recognize him from behind. She walks away, after having one of those beautiful moments that you often have in a movie, and things are starting to fall in place.
[Petzold’s] films are either an exaggerated version of the war-torn world they live in, or full-blown speculative fiction, depending on how you look at them.
But when he soon learns that woman, Marie (Paule Beer), is actually the widow of Weidel, and that he cannot get her out of his mind, Georg soon realizes that Weidel’s name isn’t the only thing he plans to steal.
But why did it seem like the woman recognize Georg? A man she has never met. He finds out she mistook him for her husband, who she refuses to believe is truly dead. Does Georg really look this much like Weidel? If you’re new to the cinema of Christian Petzold, you may already be shaking your head in disbelief. But if you are privy to his work, especially his last film, 2014’s Phoenix, which was my favorite film of that year, then you will not be so shocked. You will be more familiar, in that case, with how his films play with coincidences, with reality and with perceptions. His films are either an exaggerated version of the war-torn world they live in, or full-blown speculative fiction, depending on how you look at them.
To add to that feeling, the characters dress modern, speak modern, act modern. To make a full period piece that has lines of allegory to modern day Europe (and America) with oppression, immigration and terms like “illegals” thrown around at will, isn’t enough. Petzold wants the time periods to bleed into each other, in a decision that could be pretentious if isn’t was so assured and bold.
Georg wants a life and he wants Marie. He wants love. Marie is plagued with a man she met before Georg, who is also in love with her. He is a doctor, and an opposition to Georg, even though he is the most moral and caring character in the film, who helps the poor in need without question. Along with being jealous of him, Georg is also jealous of Weidel, the dead guy, as Marie will not let it go. Which means, in a way, Georg is jealous of himself.
Transit takes place in 1942, the same year the book it is based upon was written. France was not yet fully occupied. Marseilles was still a free area. But soon that will change, as we all know, and the haunting inevitability of history hangs over the city, just as the truth of who he is, and what motivates him, hangs over Georg.