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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Transit is based on a 1944 novel by German-Jewish writer Anna Seghers, about a German man Georg (Franz Rogowski) who is trying to flee the Nazis through the French port of Marseille. Seghers herself left Germany in 1934 after harassment by the Gestapo and moved to Paris. When the Nazis arrived there in 1940, she fled to Marseille, then Mexico. The novel was based on her observations of the thousands of people trying to escape Marseille in 1942.
The movie is set in a "director’s own" version of Marseille: no one has a mobile phone but the buildings are modern. The clothes and cafes and hotels could all be from 1944, but not the graffiti or the cars and scooters on the streets.
Georg arrives from Paris after a scrape with the invading soldiers. A friend had asked him to deliver some letters to a famous German writer named Weidel, but the writer killed himself before Georg got to his hotel. George arrives in Marseille with the manuscript of Weidel’s last book – and a letter from the Mexican Consulate saying they would welcome the writer and his wife to Mexico. When Georg tries to hand these documents back the Mexican Consul mistakes him for Weidel. That gives Georg an idea: assume the writer’s identity, escape France, save your own life. Then a dame turns up; Marie (Paula Beer) is looking for someone – and Georg thinks he knows who. If this sounds like a modern-day Casablanca, it is and it isn’t. Georg, like Bogart, carries the letters of transit: the question is, will he use them for himself or to save someone else? It’s a clever, if fussy, way to make the point that refugees are once again a big problem in the politics of Europe. Whether it makes an absorbing movie might depend on whether you can stand the droning German narration. This appears to be from the novel Georg stole, which would make Georg the hero of that novel, in one of those tricky literary sleights that are best left on the page.