‘Transit’ reminds us that cruelty can take place anytime

‘Transit’ reminds us that cruelty can take place anytime

The story’s origins are in WWII, but it clearly takes place in the present day.

A man hunkers down in wartime Marseille, grimly waiting out the days while the fascists approach. Through a fluke, he’s got transit papers for a ship leaving soon for North America.

But — of course — he meets a woman. And she, in turn, already has a man.

If you are picturing Humphrey Bogart in some vintage World War II drama, you’re not far off the mark. “Transit” is based on a 1944 novel, by Anna Seghers, set in Nazi-occupied France. Yet this is a new movie, in every way.

The film’s German director, Christian Petzold, does not set the film in the 1940s. The plot seems to be taking place during a World War, all right, but what we see is clearly the 21st century.

Petzold’s well-received previous films, including “Phoenix” and “Barbara,” generally had some kind of trick at the middle of their stories. Here, that trick is the disorienting time-shift — a curious choice, at first, but one that reminds us that every era has its refugees, its desperation and its fascists.

The Bogart character is Georg (the world-weary Franz Rogowski), apparently a member of some kind of anti-fascist underground. Early in the film he tries to deliver a message to a celebrated writer in Paris, only to find that the writer is dead.

There’s an opportunity here: In Marseille, Georg can pretend to be the writer, get his transport visas and quietly escape to Mexico. But the writer’s estranged wife, Marie (Paula Beer), is also hanging around the port city waiting for safe passage, wondering why her husband hasn’t shown up yet.

She has a boyfriend now, a doctor (Godehard Giese), and this complicates things. Meanwhile, Georg befriends a soccer-mad little boy (Lilien Batman) — a development that threatens to become sentimental, but instead sheds light on one more aspect of people becoming displaced.

The built-in suspense of “Transit” is hard to resist, and I loved its boldly colorful look. So many movies that want to impress you with their gravity adopt a washed-out palette — as though a film rich in color can’t be serious.

Petzold doesn’t bother explaining or fitting together the discrepancies between the WWII origin of the story and the present-day setting. It’s a kind of “Twilight Zone” effect, and your enjoyment of the movie will probably depend on whether you accept this screwy premise.

I was happy to accept it. In the end, the film’s vague setting burrows into your brain, leaving open the likelihood that fear and cruelty are never contained by a single time period. The action could take place at any time, not just in the Twilight Zone.

“Transit” (3½ stars)

A tantalizing premise in director Christian Petzold’s suspenseful drama about a man (world-weary Franz Rogowski) waiting for transport out of war-torn Marseille to North America. Although the action in the film appears to be taking place in WWII (and is based on a 1944 novel), what we see clearly happens in the present day, reminding us that fear and cruelty are restricted to no particular time period. In French and German, with English subtitles.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for subject matter

Opening Friday: at SIFF Cinema Uptown

Talk to us

More in Life

CloZee performs during the second day of Summer Meltdown on Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019 in Darrington, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
The psychedelic fest Summer Meltdown is back — and in Monroe

The music and camping event is on for July 28-31, with a new venue along the Skykomish River.

Gardening at spring. Planting tree in garden. Senior man watering planted fruit tree at his backyard
Bare root trees and roses have arrived for spring planting

They’re only available from January through March, so shop early for the tree or rose you want.

Veteran Keith F. Reyes, 64, gets his monthly pedicure at Nail Flare on Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021 in Stanwood, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
No more gnarly feet: This ‘Wounded Warrior’ gets pedicures

Keith Reyes, 64, visits a Stanwood nail salon for “foot treatments” that help soothe blast injuries.

Photo Caption: A coal scuttle wasn't always used for coal; it could hold logs or collect ashes. This one from about 1900 sold for $125 at DuMouchelles in Detroit.
(c) 2022 by Cowles Syndicate Inc.
Coal scuttles of days long gone by now used for fire logs

This circa 1900 coal scuttle is made of oak with brass trim, and sold for $125 at auction.

Enumclaw, the band
Music, theater and more: What’s happening in Snohomish County

Most of these venues require proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or negative… Continue reading

Does this ring a “Belle”? Storied anime writer-director Mamoru Hosoda’s newest resets “Beauty and the Beast” in a musical, virtual environment — among other modern twists. (GKIDS/TNS)
‘Belle’ is striking virtual reality riff on ‘Beauty and the Beast’

In it, ‘Beauty’ is the charismatic online avatar of a moody teenager that attracts the attention of a bruised and brooding Beast

"Redeeming Love"
Movie review: ‘Redeeming Love’ doesn’t yield cinematic riches

The story, about a sex worker “redeemed” by a folksy farmer in Gold Rush-era California, is creepy “tradwife” fan fiction.

Eggs Florentine
Baked Eggs Florentine: A brunch favorite inspired by a queen

The kitchen manager at Quil Ceda Creek Casino shares a dish that pays homage to a spinach-crazy 16th century monarch.

This easy-to-make spinach and mushroom quiche is perfect for a light dinner or fancy brunch. (Gretchen McKay/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS)
Gretchen’s table: A spinach-mushroom quiche with cheesy goodness

The savory egg custard baked in a pie crust is easy to make — especially if you use a refrigerated crust.

Most Read