What if Casablanca was set in Marseilles, and Rick was a famous writer and also dead, but a fugitive Jew (Franz Rogowski, a remarkable blend of Woody Harrelson and Joaquin Phoenix) had assumed his identity? Why fugitive? Why else? the story is set near-ish the modern day, but there are still cleansing-minded fascists bearing down. And what if Ilsa was also a Jew and also the dead writer’s wife, and also didn’t know he was dead? Well, then you’d have Transit. And don’t worry, I haven’t given away anything you don’t learn in the opening act. Besides, plot mechanics aren’t really the point here — they prove to be the film’s weakest link, given the coincidental path-crossing that winds up driving the story. The people are the point: trapped, ruefully philosophical but painfully pragmatic, and oh yes, vivid. Vivid like the saturated image, with its popping aquas, its glowing oranges, its bright Southern French sunshine and attendant deep shadows. Or maybe the place is the point — the story notes that Marseilles is a port city, and “ports are places where stories are told.” Stories of survival and escape, but more often, of frustration and heartbreak. If the who-goes-who-stays ending is a touch more convoluted than Casablanca’s, it also packs a more melancholy wallop. Christian Petzold directed, and ably adapted the screenplay from Anna Seghers’ novel.
Length: 1 hour, 41 minutes