In an undefined time period, France is occupied by fascists. Resistance member Georg (Rogowski) gets assigned to deliver letters to a leftist writer named Weidel, who it turns out has committed suicide. Franz grabs the man’s transit documents, and heads to Marseilles, and possible escape. Assuming Weidel’s identity, he books passage out but then encounters the writer’s estranged wife Marie (Beer), who’s searching for her husband (and her own transit visa). Georg starts to fall for the beautiful, mysterious Marie, who’s now involved with a young doctor (Hulke). Will he stay or will he go?
Petzold’s mind-bending film is part wartime thriller (with shades of “Casablanca”), part Kafkaesque puzzle. Adapting a wartime novel from 1942, he shifts the action to what seems like present day, though we see no technology. The agonizing uncertainty experienced by the key characters only heightens the prevailing mood of dislocation and danger. We sense what it feels like to be rootless, with no safe haven. Among a stellar cast, Rogowski, who resembles Joaquin Phoenix, gives a transfixing lead performance. His scenes with a slain colleague’s young son (Batman), yet another refugee, are particularly affecting. “Transit” is a dense, twisty ride, well worth taking.