Josh: A quick note as we get into our review here, Adam. The basic plot of "Transit," is something of a twist. So, if listeners want to go in completely blind, they might want to save our review until after they've seen it. There's really no way to talk around the central premise – and, in fact, it's pretty much revealed right at the film's start.
As "Transit," opens we seem to be in contemporary Paris, at least judging by the clothing and the cars that we see. But everyone is talking as if the city's fallen under Nazi occupation. There are dire warnings of the city being closed off, of citizens being abducted if they can't show the proper documents, and of homes being raided. Georg, played by Franz Rogowski, plans to flee as soon as he's delivered two letters to a writer as a favor for a friend. But when he discovers the writer has committed suicide, he quickly grabs whatever documents and manuscripts are in the dead man's apartment and stows away on a train to Marseilles, where he hopes to find a way out of the country. We eventually figure out the game that writer-director Christian Petzold is playing. He's taken Anna Seghers' 1944 novel, a "Casablanca-ish" yarn about political refugees seeking to flee fascist forces, and set it in contemporary France. I'm sure we'll get into the implications of that — artistic and political ones both. But first I want to get your initial reaction to this premise, Adam. When did you clue in to what was going on and what did you make it?
Adam: [Laughs] I don't remember the exact point I clued in, but that was certainly the running question in my mind throughout this film – when is there going to be some kind of reveal? And you're absolutely right that there are mostly modern elements. You recognize modern-day Paris and the vehicles and the clothing I would say for the most part. But then there's stuff like old-fashioned radios and lots of typewriters. And there don't seem to be any smartphones or computers. And everyone's talking about transit papers in a way that is not modern at all. You referenced "Casablanca." Certainly that element is here, right? The French, and the Germans, and the black market activity, and all that paperwork. And we do have a love triangle at one point that's introduced, and a male character who has grander visions for the world and potentially making it a better place. We may get into this a little bit too – Rick's in "Casablanca," was always a sort of purgatory, which this version of Marseilles may be as well. And we see everyone just stuck here trying to get out. There's elements of Hitchcock, just like "Phoenix," that we could get into and maybe we won't. And then even at one point, there's a random "Dawn Of The Dead," reference. Georg actually says something about this film where people are stuck in a shopping mall and there's zombies or something, and you're going, "OK, so that happened in 1978. What year is this?" That really was a question I was wrestling with during the film and after the film.
When you have a movie like this that... I don't know if this makes any sense – probably a contradiction in term – but it's kind of a subtle enigma. Absolutely, an enigma! Feels like a puzzle, but at the same time isn't a high concept in the same way as something like "Memento," is. Not that there's any connection really to these two films, though there might be. But something like that, that you can sort of sum up in one or two sentences, what that hook is? You can't do that really with this film. And so you've got a movie that feels like it is building – at least it did to me – feels like it's building to a reveal more than just a conclusion or some kind of resolution to the story. There is a riddle aspect to the movie – the setting and everything you described but also all the references to storytelling. You have a writer here who is a factor in the story, and our main character who is impersonating that writer and who responds to the writer's work and characters in precisely the way we as viewers regard him and the other characters. And then we've got that kind of story within the story aspect, where he actually at one point recites the author's work about a man who is looking to register to enter hell and then discovers that he's already there. So, even within that story there's a Russian doll element, where that character believes one narrative and his perception turns out to be false. Throw in the voiceover–.
Adam: –that comes into this movie?
Josh: The narration.
Adam: The narration? And the fact that most often what the narrator describes, as if he is a first person witness to these events, what we see play out onscreen actually doesn't usually match exactly what he just told us. So all of those elements are at play here, and for me there was a certain expectation that it was going to become as clear as the cinematography here, with those rich deep focus shots of the streets and the seaside of Marseilles – even the hotel rooms have deep focus, no matter how cramped they may be. So as a viewer, what do you do? How do you react when then – I think it's fair to say – there isn't quite that payoff when the movie turns out to not be an immaculately crafted brain teaser but something else? Is there enough to latch onto, to overcome maybe a little bit of a feeling of disappointment? Maybe I should be ashamed a little bit as a viewer for wanting that kind of very simple basic pleasure out of this film, but when it wasn't there? Felt a little bit unsatisfied. As I reflect on the film? Absolutely enough layers for me to be excited to discuss it and to recommend it.