Written and directed by Christian Petzold and based on Anna Segher’s 1942 novel “Transit Visa,” this is a film in which if someone simply and logically told the truth the plot would collapse. The setting for “Transit” at first is Paris being overrun by Germans, which necessitates for many the need to get out of the country quickly.
Franz Rogowski, whose acting is compelling, plays Georg, a German who has escaped from concentration camps and is on the run. When he discovers a novelist whose death is mysterious, he takes the man’s writings and identify papers, and off he goes to Marseilles in hope of gaining an exit visa that will enable him to flee France.
Enter Paula Beer as Marie, who is searching for her husband, the dead novelist. Georg falls in love with Marie, but doesn’t reveal what happened to her husband. Why not? If he did, the murky complications that develop would be undercut.
What is writer-director Petzold up to? He seems to be driving for an existential film that explores the concept of refugees attempting to survive whether at the time of the occupation by the enemy or, by inference, today. There is constant danger, with suspense involving getting transit visas from consulates with wary functionaries, the issue of love versus the importance of surviving, and the possibility of self-sacrifice to help another.
While the plot becomes dense, an element that rivets one’s interest in “Transit” is the charisma of the stars. It is fascinating to watch Rogowski and Beer. Also, the overall atmosphere created is reminiscent of film noir. Those ingredients give “Transit” its cachet, whether or not you feel the plot makes any sense. A Music Box Films release, Reviewed March 1, 2019.