starring Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Lilien Batman
screenplay by Christian Petzold, based on the novel by Anna Seghers
directed by Christian Petzold
starring Deng Chao, Sun Li, Zheng Kai, Wang Qianyuan
screenplay by Li Wei & Zhang Yimou
directed by Zhang Yimou
by Bill Chambers If Christian Petzold's previous film, Phoenix, felt like a joke reverse-engineered with the slightest of pretexts to get us to a killer payoff, Transit feels more like his version of "The Aristocrats!", a shaggy-dog story intoxicated with its own brutal rambling--here almost literalized by third-person narration from a bartender (Matthias Brandt), who paraphrases conversations he had with our hero that are comically steeped in minutiae--on its way to a glib punchline. In Paris during the Occupation, Georg (Franz Rogowski, a downmarket Joaquin Phoenix) is entrusted with delivering two pieces of mail to a renowned novelist squirrelled away in a hotel: a letter from the man's estranged wife, and papers that will help him escape to freedom. The writer, alas, is but a stain when Georg gets there, and soon after he agrees to smuggle a dying man (Grégoire Monsaingeon) into Marseilles, where he can kill two birds with one stone by taking care of the author's unfinished business. Transit generates a moment of real frisson when Georg hops off the train in Marseilles: everything is modern, or at least postwar, including the melting-pot citizenry. I'm sure there's a definitive answer as to whether this is WWII as modern-dress Shakespeare, but for the rest of the movie, whenever something as benign as a contemporary bus advertisement appears, the film briefly and instantly becomes a "Man in the High Castle"-esque work of speculative fiction that curdles the blood, given how frighteningly close we are to resurrecting Hitler with the rise of nationalism on the world stage. One might ask why the characters are still dealing with "letters of transit" like they're in Casablanca (i.e., where are the computers?), but I took that as commentary on the dinosaur ideals of fascism itself. If fascism does one thing well, it's "rolling back" progress, currently the Republican party's favourite pastime.