The Talented Herr Georg

Transit (Christian Petzold, 2018)

The estrangement is strong in this one. In Paris, Georg (Franz Rogowski) is persuaded to deliver two letters to a writer, Franz Weidel, but finds that the latter has died, by suicide. Narrowly escaping the police, Georg tries to smuggle his friend, Heinz, to Marseille, but the latter dies en route and Franz narrowly escapes the police. Georg has to break the news of Heinz’s death to his family and of Franz’s death to the Mexican consul – but he is mistaken for Franz, who has a visa that will allow him to escape the Nazi occupiers who will soon be cleansing Marseille…

Yes, Nazis, or, anyway, fascists.

Whilst the mise en scène mostly suggests the present day – although there are no mobile phones and Weidel has a manual typewriter – a fascist army is occupying Paris and working its way through the country, rounding up Jews, people of colour and other undesirables.

It turns out that the film is adapted from a 1944 novel by Anna Seghers, but Petzold has transposed it to a present day rather than lovingly recreating the Second World War. This isn’t quite sf, but you could make a case for it as alternate history.

We know a film about people in transit during the Second World War – Casablanca – and many of the scenes take place in a café, although not owned by Georg. We may wonder who will get on the plane – ship – at the end of the film and who will regret it, maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…

Weidel’s wife Marie (Paula Beer) is in Marseille, living with a doctor (Godehard Giese), waiting for Weidel to arrive with the tickets and visas. Perhaps Georg can help her, perhaps he can help them, perhaps he can help himself.

There is a whiff of The Talented Mr Ripley, too, which also had a south of France setting. Georg has to pass as Franz, has to stay a step ahead of the authorities. But he is also the wrong man and you could imagine the Hitchcock version – although the curiously repeatedly returning Marie is no ice blonde. She does have to seduce whatever man will help her, to return to her true love.

Add in a dollop of Kafka, for the bureaucracy, the paranoia and the endless task.

It doesn’t do to think too deeply about all this. There’s a voiceover, telling us the story in such a way as it doesn’t quite match with the story we are shown. And we assume that there are no computers, no finger print recordings, no face recognition software. Instead, we are kept wondering whether Georg will be on that ship.

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