Thursday, November 8, 2018

Guilty Conscience

Transit (2018) - Petzold
Screen Shot 2018-11-07 at 11.24.10 PM
Transit is another tightly scripted high melodrama by Christian Petzold. Based on a 1942 novel by Anna Seghers based on her experience in France under Nazi Occupation, Petzold transposes its premise to modern day Maseilles, again under the Fascist Germans. With the rise of authoritarian right wing regimes and their nationalist rhetoric and anti-immigrant sentiments here and everywhere, it is frightening to think that this film is not a too far fetched scenario. It's one of the many reasons why the film is brilliant.

Georg (Franz Rogowski) is asked to deliver two letters to Weidel, a writer of some importance in Paris. It's a dangerous mission- there are police raids daily and it's harder to get around on the street without constantly being asked for proper papers. Everyone knows the major shit's gonna go down soon: there are people being dragged away in the streets by the heavily armed authorities- 'the purge' is at hand. But with some money promised, Georg is up to the challenge. But once he gets to Paris, he finds that the writer has committed suicide, leaving his documents and the latest manuscript behind. With others urging to take a sick man to Marseilles and notify the Mexican consulate of the death of Weidel, Georg hops on the train to the port city. The letters reveal that Weidel has a safe passage with his wife Marie (Paula Beer of Franz) to go to Mexico and that she will be waiting for him in Marseilles.

Once he arrives at Marseilles, he reluctantly assumes the identity of Weidel, make friends with an Arab immigrant boy whose dad (the sick man) died on the way. He also sees Marie everywhere, scouring the city for Weidel, her husband, day in and day out. She is involved with Richard (Godehard Giese), a doctor who has put his departure on hold because he doesn't want to leave her behind. No one wants to be the one who leaves. These characters are stuck in there, going around in circles, trapped by love, by sense of loyalty or simply by human decency.

Transit's got a lot to do with guilty conscience: Guilt of leaving someone behind. Guilt of forgetting. Guilt of being indifferent. With this, Transit is a great companion piece to Phoenix, the director's last film, taking place in post-WWII setting. It also is in line with Petzold's usual themes - people in transit, state of uncertainty caused by outside force, by something bigger than an individual, while not losing sight of its characters' humanity. Also because of this setting and themes, even though contemporary, it reminds me strongly of Nouveau Roman writers' works.