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The Eternal Transit Space

By Domoina Ratsara

Christian Petzold’s new feature, TRANSIT, shown in competition at the 68th Berlinale, is a truly peculiar work. Although it is based on a book first released in 1944 – Anna Seghers’ homonymous novel –narrated by a young German man stuck in Marseille after escaping a German concentration camp in 1937, the film is structured and shot in a contemporary scenario.
In the middle of the controversial debate on European engagement with the fates of refugees, Petzold’s device explores the idea of temporality and plays with different historical contexts – as if he is trying to build an “eternal transit space”. When the director sets his characters in the contemporary world, the linear time conception is completely blown away. This temporal confusion sheds light on migration issues that seem to have little or no changes over the years. By confronting the past with the present, Petzold proposes a multilayered approach and explores this composite transit space.
The story follows Georg as he is commissioned by a friend to deliver two letters to a writer named Weidel – only to find out that he has committed suicide. Georg takes all his documents (passport, visa and a manuscript) and escapes to Marseille, where he meets Marie, the mysterious writer’s wife. It is obvious that the novel carries out some of Petzold’s favorite themes, especially in the refugees’ identity crisis (as Georg assumes the writer’s identity) and the ghost-like existence of Marie.
Besides this temporal device, Petzold uses voice-over narration taken from the book that also helps to build the strange mood that permeates the movie – but it also adds some extra confusion to the viewer’s experience.
Among so many documentary and fiction films addressing the contemporary migration issues, TRANSIT definitely calls for a different social, political and formal approach to the issue of refugees and asylum-seekers.