A WWII thriller transposed to modern times, Transit has a lot on its mind concerning contemporary global affairs and familiar threats that could easily return. By keeping one foot in the past and another in the present, the adaptation of Anna Seghers’s 1942-set (and 1944-published) novel feels bracingly of our times yet timeless — a rare potency that warrants the critical attention it’s thus far received.
Looking and acting like a German Joaquin Phoenix, Franz Rogowski (Happy End) makes for a magnetic lead as Georg, one of many people looking to flee the invading forces before it’s too late. His frantic journey through France to the port city of Marseille is fraught with tension from the start, and the series of events through which he suddenly finds himself booking passage to safety in Mexico deliciously drip with human drama.
From a mysterious beautiful woman (Paula Beer, Never Look Away) who seems to confuse him for someone else, to a german doctor (Godehard Giese, Netflix’s Babylon Berlin), a football-loving tween (Lilien Batman), and the boy’s deaf/mute mother (Maryam Zaree), the people Georg encounters resemble tragic figures from an updated film noir and are all crucial to establishing the film’s constant sense of desperation.
A potential deterrent to reaping the emotional wealth of their complicated relationships is a fairly morose tone, albeit one appropriate for the invasion of fascism subject matter and consistent with writer/director Christian Petzold’s previous film, the Holocaust survival tale, Phoenix.
Softening the blow, however, are Transit’s visuals. Quite possibly the year’s best lit and crispest-looking film to date, its bright, colorful imagery miraculously turns the seaside town into one of lingering hope for a better life, even as oppressive parties close in.
Grade: B-plus. Not rated, but with adult themes and language. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse
(Photo: Music Box Films)