Derik Badman's Journal

2020-12-03 08:29

Yesterday's movie was Christian Petzold's Transit. It's from 2018 but features a setting that looks like the present but is reminiscent of World War II era France. There are few obvious signs of modern technology (no cell phones, I don't think we even see any tvs) excepting modern day cars and police, but the background involves fascists invading France from Germany and death camps and people fleeing the country for America. It's an interesting tactic, that at first feels like it might be near future sci-fi, but instead settles into a kind of historical drama with modern day scenery. Looking it up now I see it's based on a novel from 1944, so clearly Petzold decided to shoot the film without the trappings of a historical set/costumes/etc but maintain the background context.

For all this background, it is much more a dramatic character study than a thriller/war/spy type film. It begins almost as such with a letter to deliver and police raids and fleeing secretly in the boxcar of a train, but then settles into the city of Marseilles amongst refugees seeking passage to America. The focus is on a young man who takes another man's identify (the other man is dead, but no one knows it) as a way to get out of the country, but ends up getting attached to different people. Ironically, in the end, he makes a rather selfless sacrifice that ends up saving his life.

The intrusion of a narrator into the film is one choice I found really odd (more odd than the historical/modern setting). The narration is rarely telling us more than we can see or infer, so it kind of acts like the unnecessary caption boxes in so many comics. The film also never really does anything with the narrator (a bartender at a cafe the protagonist is often at). He plays no real role in the story, and even the status of his knowledge is suspect. The protagonist seems to tell the narrator his story, but throughout the film we see the protagonist as a man of very few words who almost never expresses himself, so the level of interiority the narrator makes use of feels inconsistent.