Grade: B-/B
Entire family: No
2018, 101 min., Color
Music Box Films
Not Rated (would be PG for adult situations and some language)
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: German and French Dolby Digital 5.1
Bonus features: B
Amazon link

Although Transit isn’t rated, there’s technically nothing in it that would prevent entire families from watching. There’s not much in the way of language, no nudity or sex, limited alcohol and smoking, and the closest thing to violence are forcible arrests, mostly in the background.

But this isn’t the kind of film an American family typically watches. The language is German and French, with English subtitles. It’s a slow-moving drama that eschews the Hollywood plot arc for a structure that allows viewers to appreciate the directionless predicament of trying to maintain any kind of relationship in a country led by an oppressive regime. This film also embraces anachronism, which can be just a little too artsy for some viewers. Though Transit is based on an Anna Seghers novel that takes place in Marseilles, France in 1940 soon after the Nazi occupation, director Christian Petzold chose to set the film in an unspecified present. The Germans are called “fascists,” not “Nazis,” and while there’s talk of rounding up Jews, there isn’t a Nazi uniform in sight. Petzold said he wanted to blur the novel’s setting so that the issues would resonate with current world events.

And you know what? That blurring is a big reason why parents with older children might like to give this film a shot. Transit does resonate, and in an uncomfortable way if you happen to be among the 59 percent of Americans who disapprove of Trump’s immigrant detainment camps and expansive ICE raids. There are characters here that viewers can identify with that can help them understand how common it is to be “illegal” in a country and how frightening it is when the government decides to launch a purge. Illegals aren’t just displaced physically. There’s also a mental and emotional dislocation that occurs. Add the complications that accompany almost any relationship, whether family, friend, or significant other, and it makes for all sorts of issues to discuss after watching the film together.

In Transit, Franz Rogowski, who bears a slight resemblance to Joaquin Phoenix, plays Georg, a German refugee trying to stay one step ahead of the raids by German occupiers to round up illegals in Paris and then other French cities. Two things further complicate his attempts to leave Europe for an America that today might turn him away: a growing fascination with the young boy (Lilien Batman) and deaf-and-dumb widow (Maryam Zaree) of a man who was fleeing with him but died on the train, and a romantic attraction to a woman (Paula Beer) who is trying to find her writer-husband, not knowing that Georg came into possession of the writer’s last manuscript and letters and had been using his name to try to get papers of transit. If any of this sounds a little like Casablanca, the only resemblance, really, is that Georg tries to help a woman he obviously loves to escape from France with the doctor (Godehard Giese) she was living with. Other than that, Transit is its own film, and Petzold manages to craft a palpable tension that holds you until the end credits.

If you decide to rent, buy, or stream this film, be careful to get the 2018 film by Petzold that was released in the U.S. in 2019—not on of the other seven films titled Transit (including the most famous, the Jim Caviezel action flick). Petzold’s film was a New York Times Critics’ Pick and a darling of international film festivals, and it earned a 95 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes. I agree, but for some families the slow pace might seem like a flaw, and for those caught up in the realism of the drama (rather than the philosophical and existential issues) might find the repetition of a very distinctive question from two different sources a bit jarring. But still, it’s a good film to provoke thought and discussion.

Language: Fewer than a dozen minor swearwords

Sex: A man and woman are shown to have come from the same bed, but there’s nothing graphic

Violence: Mild, with a woman dragged off by authorities at close range and only a few forcible arrests made in the background; a man is said to have killed himself but only a bloodied bathtub is shown from a distance

Adult situations: Aside from the usual smoking and drinking there is another death and those that remove the body complain about the stench 

Takeaway: Slow-moving or not, and ponderously existential or not, Petzold’s Transit is a perfect film to watch during these imperfect times