Like all of his work, the writer/director’s fourth film in Berlinale competition is elegantly made, ingenious and intellectually challenging. Yet it’s also too much like hard work to be entirely satisfying and, dramatically, it suffers from the same condition as its protagonists: inertia.
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There is no denying that, initially, Transit’s story might feel excessively oblique. But as the film slowly puts its formalistic and thematic cards on the table, it becomes clear that its storytelling technique is really just a reflection of its core themes.
The result is a film that lucidly traces the specter of fascism (never extinguished, always waiting to exhale), and how unreal it feels for it to cast its shadow across Europe once more. It’s also a film that feels stuck between stations, so doggedly theoretical that it borders on becoming glib.
This is a richly rewarding film, packed with ideas and riddles, that will surely benefit from repeat viewings.
A refugee portrait that piles contrivance upon contrivance to somehow land at a place of piercing emotional acuity.
Be prepared to be challenged by the glittering, allusive and often bewitching “Transit,” but also to be frustrated on discovering that even if you manage to piece it all together, in this particular crazy world the problems of three little people ultimately don’t amount to a hill of beans.
Both leads fit their performances seamlessly into this destabilizing scheme, providing a provocative timelessness to the characters.
Petzold struggles to keep hold of the reigns, wielding the effects of melodrama with little to no precision or psychological acuity, and leaving the essential romance at the heart of the story to be rendered almost entirely unbelievable.
Christian Petzold’s lean, rigorous filmmaking proves essential as the story begins to run, deliberately, in circles.