The Thriller 'Transit' Makes A 1940s Story Speak To A 21st Century Audience A contemporary take on a WWII story — the film Transit looks at fascism, refugees and how little has changed in eight decades.
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The Thriller 'Transit' Makes A 1940s Story Speak To A 21st Century Audience

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The Thriller 'Transit' Makes A 1940s Story Speak To A 21st Century Audience

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The Thriller 'Transit' Makes A 1940s Story Speak To A 21st Century Audience

The Thriller 'Transit' Makes A 1940s Story Speak To A 21st Century Audience

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A contemporary take on a WWII story — the film Transit looks at fascism, refugees and how little has changed in eight decades.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

How do you make a story from the 1940s speak to a 21st century audience? Critic Bob Mondello says a German filmmaker has found a fresh answer in the thriller "Transit."

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Occupied France, German soldiers approaching Paris, police hauling refugees to camps - terrified intellectuals grimly haunt cafes seeking papers, visas, a way out. You've seen the situation in countless World War II movies, but in this one, the careening police vans are modern. The cafes have TVs. It's the Holocaust but the day after tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRANSIT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Georg.

MONDELLO: Georg, a German refugee, is offered a deal - a ride out of town if he first delivers two letters to a famous writer named Weidel.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRANSIT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character, speaking German).

MONDELLO: At Weidel's hotel, he learns the writer has died, so he grabs a half-completed manuscript to go with his two letters and heads for the port city of Marseilles hoping to trade Weidel's papers for passage out of Europe. But there's a mix-up at the Mexican consulate. When he mentions Weidel, an official thinks he's the writer, tells him his wife is looking for him...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "TRANSIT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character, speaking German).

MONDELLO: ...And hands him their visas and cash. "Transit" then involves Georg, played by a sad-eyed Franz Rogowski, in a love story complicated enough to qualify as a mistaken identity farce if people didn't keep dying. What makes filmmaker Christian Petzold's beautifully strange take on the tale intriguing is partly that the modern dress and references to fascists cleansing society of these people who are refugees means parallels are unavoidable. Scenes conceived 75 years ago of desperate emigres tangled in bureaucratic red tape look alarmingly like the nightly news.

But even more striking is how the film's form follows its function. "Transit" is a story in transition about transition, the images of cobbled streets and modern cruise ships forcing you to flip between past and present even as characters caught in a purgatorial present await an even scarier future. I'm Bob Mondello.

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