With Transit, Christian Petzold makes a laudable attempt to breathe new life into tired cinematic tropes. Inspired by Anna Seghers’ 1944 novel, it tells the relentlessly twisty tale of Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German refugee in Paris on the run from his fascist countrymen. Fleeing the capital for Marseilles, he assumes the identit yof a recently deceased writer. This hastily made decision has unforeseen consequences for Georg, including an uneasy romantic entanglement with the writer’s young widow (Paula Beer). Petzold boldly relocates the action to the present day, or at least some hazy, impressionistic version of it – it’s as if the current migrant crisis was a direct continuation of the Holocaust. Adding to the Kafkaesque vibe is an extremely jarring third-person voiceover narration, in which an unknown observer offers a glib interpretation of the events. It’s perhaps fitting that a film about false identity should revel in its own artificiality, but I have to confess I found the relentless tricksiness ultimately exhausting. So effective are the film’s distancing devices, its occasional bids for emotional engagement fall flat. And Petzold’s adventurous approach to filmmaking feels hampered by a frustrating literal-mindedness, as in the exasperatingly on-the-nose use of Talking Heads’ “Road to Nowhere” over the end credits. 

Transit | Directed by Christian Petzold (Geramny/France, 2018). With Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer and Godehard Giese. Starts April 5.

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