An on-the-road tale of stolen identity that’s imbued with suffocating urgency and paranoia, Transit uses many of the conventions of noir—mysterious brunette, dead husbands—to weave a Kafkaesque narrative about how memory functions in the face of trauma and political oppression.
It’s a winding, complex work, at times maddeningly so, but that’s to be expected from German director Christian Petzold, whose masterworks like Phoenix and Barbara traffic in the same language of doubles and misunderstandings. Here, Petzold adapts Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel about a young German man fleeing a Nazi concentration camp for Marseilles, but transposes the events to the 21st century. The looming, fascist threat in the film is less distinct, their motive unclear, but the results are the same: The persecuted are trapped by invisible borders, stranded at ports and desperate for a secure future. Georg (Franz Rogowski) is among the refugees, but by assuming the name of a German writer who committed suicide, he hopes to gain safe passage to Mexico. While waiting in Marseilles, he becomes friends with Driss, the son of his late comrade Heinz (Ronald Kukulies) who was killed during an escape attempt, and falls for the widow of the very man he’s impersonating. On paper, Transit reads like something of a political thriller, but it’s a slow, deep burn, with more interest in modernism, human psychology and borders than in big reveals and well-laid plans. Give it your patience and enthusiasm, and you will be rewarded. At Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square.