Christian Petzold’s Transit, one of the best films of the past year, hits Blu-ray and DVD today courtesy of Music Box Films Home Entertainment. If you missed it in theatres now is your chance to catch up with this gem.
Adapted from Anna Seghers’ novel, Transit is set in a world that blends present and past. The characters exist in a state of limbo, but their struggle feels even more pertinent now than the World War II era setting of Seghers’ text.
Georg (Franz Rogowski) is a German refugee who escapes to Marseille after fascists take control of Paris. In his possession is the latest manuscript of a recently deceased author named Weidl and a letter from the writer’s wife Marie (Paula Beer). Initially planning to hand the manuscript over to the Mexican embassy, he soon discovers that Weidl had secured a transit pass for himself and his wife to flee the war in Europe for asylum in Mexico. Assuming the dead man’s identity, Georg’s sense of urgency to leave the country subsides as he becomes more fascinated with figuring out who Marie is.
As Georg and the dead man’s wife repeatedly cross paths, while she searches for Weidl, George finds himself bonding with several individuals, including Driss (Lilien Batman) and his mother Melissa (Maryam Zaree), who are also stuck in Marseille awaiting transit to a better life.
Petzold’s film lives in a constant state of unease. One of the most powerful aspects about Transit is the sense of guilt that many of the characters feel for simply surviving the day as other refugees get hauled off by authorities. This shame is also evident in the relationships, both romantic and platonic, that are formed between the characters. Take Marie for example who finds herself in a quasi-love triangle with Georg and a doctor named Richard (Godehard Giese), while still in love with a husband who she initially walked out on.
Offering a unique perspective on the refugee experience, Petzold effectively puts us in the shoes of individuals who are often invisible in plain sight to most of society. People without a country who are subjected to extortion and hardship by those willing to take advantage of their dire situation. By taking away the privilege of skin colour, as the white refugees do not fair much better than the individuals of colour, the film carries universal appeal while simultaneously commenting on the dark path of Europe’s anti-immigrant sentiment.
The Blu-ray comes full of special features that further explore the film’s themes of individuals stuck in a living purgatory. In “Making of Transit” viewers are treated to an in-depth look at the challenges that Petzold had bringing Segher’s text to life, including how to navigate telling a story set in the present but blends in elements of the past. The notion of the transition of time is also addressed in “Christian Petzold Q&A at Film Society of Lincoln Center” feature and the collector’s booklet that come with the film. There is also the “In Transit: Thrown into the World” featurette which offers a fascinating conversation that Petzold and actress Barbara Auer had with moderator Ben Gibson at the Berlinale Film Festival which offered a mini retrospective of Petzold’s career.
A richly crafted film, Christian Petzold’s Transit feels both timely and timeless.
Bonus Features: Making of Transit, The Cinema of Transit: interview with Christian Petzold, Christian Petzold Q&A at Film Society of Lincoln Center, In Transit: Thrown into the World, The Refugee as a person: inverivew with Franz Rogowski, Franz Rogowski: Shooting Star, Collector’s Booklet,