stats
globeinteractive.com: Making the Business of Life Easier

   Finance globeinvestor   Careers globecareers.workopolis Subscribe to The Globe
The Globe and Mail /globeandmail.com
Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space


Search

space
  This site         Tips

  
space
  The Web Google
space
   space



space

  Where to Find It


Breaking News
  Home Page

  Report on Business

  Sports

  Technology

space
Subscribe to The Globe

Shop at our Globe Store


Print Edition
  Front Page

  Report on Business

  National

  International

  Sports

  Arts & Entertainment

  Editorials

  Columnists

   Headline Index

 Other Sections
  Appointments

  Births & Deaths

  Books

  Classifieds

  Comment

  Education

  Environment

  Facts & Arguments

  Focus

  Health

  Obituaries

  Real Estate

  Review

  Science

  Style

  Technology

  Travel

  Wheels

 Leisure
  Cartoon

  Crosswords

  Food & Dining

  Golf

  Horoscopes

  Movies

  Online Personals

  TV Listings/News

 Specials & Series
  All Reports...

space

Services
   Where to Find It
 A quick guide to what's available on the site

 Newspaper
  Advertise

  Corrections

  Customer Service

  Help & Contact Us

  Reprints

  Subscriptions

 Web Site
  Advertise

  E-Mail Newsletters

  Free Headlines

  Globe Store New

  Help & Contact Us

  Make Us Home

  Mobile New

  Press Room

  Privacy Policy

  Terms & Conditions


GiveLife.ca

    

PRINT EDITION
The limits of Christian Petzold's control
space
The German master filmmaker crafts a volatile, profoundly universal refugee story with Transit
space
By JOHN SEMLEY
Special to The Globe and Mail
  
  

Email this article Print this article
Wednesday, September 12, 2018 – Page A16

BERLIN -- 'You want short answers?" asks Christian Petzold, after a long haul on a hypermodern vape pen in the upper-level lounge of the Berlin International Film Festival's luxurious Filmpalast. "We can try it."

I tell him I don't want short answers. He says that's good.

And it is. Because Petzold, the 57year-old German filmmaker, speaks in long, winding paragraphs. And while his English is perfectly serviceable (even elegant), he insists on speaking through a translator, who is saddled with unpacking Petzold's densely stuffed ideas, then repackaging them for an English speaker struggling to keep up.

Transit, Petzold's latest, abounds with such big ideas.

"Hard stuff," as Petzold describes it.

The film adapts Anna Seghers's Second World War-era novel Transit Visa, which tracks French refugees escaping Paris after the Nazi invasion. In an inspired, almost shocking twist, Petzold transports the action to a version of our present moment, where an unnamed foreign army pushes mostly white, by-and-large beautiful fugitives - chief among them is Georg, played by the lupine, vaguely Vincent Gallo-ish German actor Franz Rogowski - into the underground as they seek passage to the United States. Or Mexico. Or any friendly port, really.

"I'm a Protestant," Petzold says.

"And I suffer from a desire to have total control over everything. If you do a period piece, you have a total control: over the lighting, over the costumes, over the dialogue. When it's being filmed in a studio situation, you can plan every square-inch, as if you're planning an exhibition for a museum. It's turned into a museum-like situation. I didn't like that."

It's a curious sentiment from a filmmaker who is known for his control. Many of Petzold's critically acclaimed melodramatic thrillers (2008's Jerichow, 2012's Barbara, 2014's Phoenix) boast a borderline-Hitchcockian level of control, with Petzold exhibiting a masterful grasp of his actors and scenarios, parcelling out plot twists and ruptures of emotion that have earned him a reputation as a first-rate filmmaker. (To wit, following its premiere at the 2018 Berlinale, Transit is bowing in TIFF's illustrious Masters program next week.)

Transit marks a significant shift, seeing Petzold cutting ties with lead actress/muse Nina Hoss (who starred in the bulk of the director's previous films); as well, his long-time co-writer Harun Farocki died in 2014. (Farocki was also Petzold's teacher and mentor at Berlin's German Film and Television Academy.) Absent his usual collaborators, Transit unfolds like a singular auteur object - pure-drip Petzold.

It's a war story. A doomed love story. A ghost story. A parable.

It's dark, thrilling and strangely funny, in an absurdist, Kafka-esque way.

And Transit, by design, is productively uncontrolled, even a bit volatile. By transposing Seghers's source novel to a contemporary moment beset by another, totally different real-world refugee crisis, the film feels suspended between periods and places. It is both familiar and strange. And the Germans, of course, have a word for that: unheimlich. Uncanny. Creepy. Unsettling.

Part of this feeling proceeds from the galling verve to make a modern refugee film that is primarily concerned with trials and tribulations of good-looking white Europeans. Transit feels deliberately calibrated to gin up disbelieving reactions, to invite criticism for the manner in which it evades the realities of the continuing European migrant crisis.

For Petzold, such a radical substitution is meant to stir a sense of acknowledgment, both historical and existential.

"In Germany, we have legislation governing asylum laws," he explains, "and that, of course, was based on the hundreds of thousands who had to flee Germany. And nobody in the world wanted them. We're talking about white people: Jews, homosexuals, communists. No one wanted to accept them. That's why after 1945, Germany entered into the commitment of letting everyone who was being persecuted into the country to apply for asylum."

There's a key scene in Transit that speaks to both its universalism and its particularity. Adrift in the purgatorial French port town of Marseilles, seeking passage across the Atlantic, Georg heads to a friend's apartment in a dingy ghetto.

When he arrives, he finds the flat full of North Africans who have moved in, seemingly overnight. As he opens the door, it's as if the past and present are colliding.

"I've always considered that scene as a kind of door-opener, and an eye-opener at the same time," Petzold says. "When Georg opens that door, it's the present that stares him in the face, that looks him in the eye. The North Africans recognize him. They don't look at him as if he's a stranger.

The refugees of the past and the refugees of today meet and recognize each other. That's a bridge between the past and the present."

Beyond articulating the eternal struggles of the displaced and the stateless, Petzold aims to directly confront Westerners suffering from self-imposed historical amnesia. As he puts it, "After 1945, Germany appeared to be a country that had deleted its hard disc, so to speak." This idea explodes in Petzold's previous film, Phoenix, in which Hoss's haunted Holocaust survivor returns to Berlin to find the postwar city in the throes of Weimar-styled cabarets, as if the war itself had never even happened.

This act of forgetting, or being unstuck in place and time, crops up again and again in Petzold's movies. His films abound with drifters (Jerichow), the dispossessed (Barbara), and identities remodelled and mistaken (Phoenix). In Transit, the writer-director expands the frame, applying the theme to historical memory.

"You always find these stories in cinema," Petzold says. "People long to have a new life or get rid of old traumas or escape their criminal past. It never works. Because the past keeps popping up.

You find it in horror movies and crime movies and whatever else.

Cinema loves the present. But the old, repressed things of the past keep popping up and resurfacing, and destroying everything. For me, cinema is the place where you are being presented with a memory of the past."

Beyond being a straight-ahead definition of cinema - which embosses the past performances of actors, the play of light and shadow, and projects it into the present - it offers a thesis statement: for Transit, for Petzold's body of work, for a historical present that sees a revival of oldfangled political antagonisms and prejudices. Just as Georg has his moment of recognition with a family of émigrés who seem zapped into the film from another dimension (that of our real world), Petzold hopes, with all modesty, to stir similar feelings in the viewer. The famous vow in the long days after the Second World War was, after all, "never again." It was a promise to extend empathy with vigilance, and recognize a shared humanity across cultural, national and religious lines, across space and time itself.

"From the past, they're looking at us," Petzold says, via his madly scribbling interpreter, as he returns to his e-cigarette and the swirling eddies of his own thoughts. "It's about a promise that is not being kept. It has never been kept. But it is still relevant to us."

Transit screens at TIFF Sept. 12, 9:30 p.m., Lightbox; Sept. 14, 12 p.m., Lightbox; and Sept. 16, 5 p.m., Scotiabank (tiff.net).

Associated Graphic

Transit, directed by German filmmaker Christian Petzold, below, adapts Anna Seghers's Second World War-era novel Transit Visa, which tracks French refugees escaping Paris after the Nazi invasion.

BELOW: STEFANIE LOOS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


Huh? How did I get here?
Return to Main Lysiane_Gagnon Page
Subscribe to
The Globe and Mail
 

Email this article Print this article

space  Advertisement
space

Need CPR for your RSP? Check your portfolio’s pulse and lower yours by improving the overall health of your investments. Click here.

Advertisement

7-Day Site Search
    

Breaking News



Today's Weather


Inside

Rick Salutin
Merrily marching
off to war
Roy MacGregor
Duct tape might hold
when panic strikes


Editorial
Where Manley is going with his first budget




space

Columnists



For a columnist's most recent stories, click on their name below.

 National


Roy MacGregor arrow
This Country
space
Jeffrey Simpson arrow
The Nation
space
Margaret Wente arrow
Counterpoint
space
Hugh Winsor  arrow
The Power Game
space
 Business


Rob Carrick arrow
Personal Finance
space
Drew Fagan arrow
The Big Picture
space
Mathew Ingram arrow
space
Brent Jang arrow
Business West
space
Brian Milner arrow
Taking Stock
space
Eric Reguly arrow
To The Point
space
Andrew Willis arrow
Streetwise
space
 Sports


Stephen Brunt arrow
The Game
space
Eric Duhatschek arrow
space
Allan Maki arrow
space
William Houston arrow
Truth & Rumours
space
Lorne Rubenstein arrow
Golf
space
 The Arts


John Doyle arrow
Television
space
John MacLachlan Gray arrow
Gray's Anatomy
space
David Macfarlane arrow
Cheap Seats
space
Johanna Schneller arrow
Moviegoer
space
 Comment


Murray Campbell arrow
Ontario Politics
space
Lysiane Gagnon arrow
Inside Quebec
space
Marcus Gee arrow
The World
space
William Johnson arrow
Pit Bill
space
Paul Knox arrow
Worldbeat
space
Heather Mallick arrow
As If
space
Leah McLaren arrow
Generation Why
space
Rex Murphy arrow
Japes of Wrath
space
Rick Salutin arrow
On The Other Hand
space
Paul Sullivan arrow
The West
space
William Thorsell arrow
space





Home | Business | National | Int'l | Sports | Columnists | The Arts | Tech | Travel | TV | Wheels
space

© 2003 Bell Globemedia Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Help & Contact Us | Back to the top of this page