Transit (Blu-ray Review)

What if Casablanca was turned into an existential vision rubbing up against modern times? Transit is a tale presenting such an idea. Adapted from a 1944 novel by Anna Seghers, German director Christian Petzold (Phoenix) has crafted an intriguing story that is both urgent and timeless in its presentation of displaced people contending with their status in society. At the core of it, we follow a man in search of his own identity after taking one from another. Combining elements of Hitchcock, film noir, romance, and Kafkaesque struggles, Transit is a compelling drama with a setup that alternates time enough to make it, oddly, one of 2019’s best science fiction films. Now, Transit has arrived on Blu-ray with a strong technical presentation and enough extra material to round out the whole package quite nicely.



As the film begins, we are introduced to Georg (Franz Rogowski), a German refugee fleeing from fascist troops who have descended on Paris. He makes his way to Marseille, with intentions to continue from there, but accomplishes as much by taking the identity of a writer who committed suicide. During his time in the port city, with the looming threat of the fascist troops arriving there as well, Georg’s life becomes intertwined with a young refugee boy and his widowed mother. Additionally, Georg finds himself falling for a mysterious woman, Marie (Paula Beer), who is looking for her missing husband.

Mentioning the arrival of fascist troops who demand to see everyone’s papers, and ship off those who don’t have any begs the question – when is this movie? Based on the plot I have described, it doesn’t necessarily speak to a time after 1944, and yet Transit is shot with digital cameras, we see modern cars on the streets, and police officers are decked out with today’s riot gear. At the same time, there are no cell phones or air conditioners, and passports and papers have that old-fashioned look to them. It’s not that Transit is anachronistic, but instead purposefully stylized.

The film is taking place in an alternate history timeline, where something like this is occurring today, as far as the freedom of the people is concerned. Transit is not given a fantastical look in the same way as something like The Man in the High Castle, but it’s also not as deliberately ambiguous in the same way as say Certified Copy. The film operates somewhere in the middle, and is all the better for its subtle reveals of broader information, compared to the more focused human story it is telling.

Petzold, whose previous period-set films Phoenix and Barbara have allowed Transit to join as a part of a trilogy of features involving characters weary of suspicion, deftly handles everything presented. Key to this is Petzold’s positioning of Rogowski’s Georg. With a face that can move between damaged and hopeful, Petzold has a lead who blends in with the society around him, yet stands entirely alone when the film shows his isolation. That we get to watch him realize his love for another means the film finds a way to walk a tricky line of letting a seemingly stuck character prosper in some way. So, of course, the drama that continues from there has all the more impact.

For a film that could easily be cloaked in shadows to emphasize the neo-noir aspects of the story better, I was impressed by the bright cinematography from Hans Fromm. Transit allows Marseille to look like the sunny port city it is, complete with shots that take advantage of showing off the small cafes, the harbor, and other architecture. It doesn’t stop us from seeing Georg or various other characters framed against large backdrops with few others around to better signify the themes on display, but the film’s openness is welcome.

To say more would be giving away an intriguing story that can be looked at as a thriller, but is more naturalistic than anything. While characters are in hiding or on the run, this is not a film that requires large-scale chases or an action-based finale. Transit is more comfortable detailing the complications of romance, affection, and the human spirit amid dire circumstances. As a result, we have a film with all the excitement needed thanks to the shared glances, troubled pauses, and other nuanced reactions.  It still may be fittingly tied to today’s political climate abstractly, but for escapist entertainment, it’s wonderfully human.



Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC

Resolution: 1080p

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1

Clarity/Detail: Shot on the Arri Alexa Mini, the crisp image of the film immediately stuck out to me. There’s so much clarity in the picture, whether it’s in the more insular settings or when we can watch characters near windows, easily seeing everything taking place outside. The level of detail is quite strong, whether it’s the crinkles in the various papers or the costume design on display. The modern touches of the film allow for a fine look at everything going on, with great help from this terrific transfer.

Depth: There’s an excellent level of dimensionality on display here. Watching characters interact in cafes is a good example, given the shifts in who we see and from where. No flatness to be found.

Black Levels: Black levels are generally consistent, deep, and inky throughout. Everything looks natural, with no signs of crush. There are only so many nighttime scenes, let alone darker portions to focus on, but they never come up lacking.

Color Reproduction: Colors are fantastic in this film, as the palette is so warm and inviting, despite some of the drama taking place. You get a great sense of the environment and the characters thanks to some vibrant hues and a level of pop that brings out so much.

Flesh Tones: Facial textures register very well. You get a good amount of detail when looking at the characters up close. It helps the film maintain its natural feel.

Noise/Artifacts: Nothing to be concerned with.



Audio Format(s): German and French 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, German and French 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio

Subtitles: English, English SDH

Dynamics: Between the old-fashioned score by Stefan Will and the natural sounds of the city, there’s a lot to admire in the audio design and the track brought to this Blu-ray. The mix is quite strong, never interfering or failing to impact in the right sort of way.

Low-Frequency Extension: The LFE Channel gets little to do here, as the film doesn’t rely on beats requiring much extra push.

Surround Sound Presentation: The surround presentation has everything needed to encapsulate the music, dialogue, and other audio elements heard in the film. The center and front channels supply plenty, but the rear channels have a chance to capture what’s involved as well.

Dialogue Reproduction: Everyone sounds loud and clear.


Transit comes with a solid set of extras that detail the making of the film, with lots of reflections from the cast and crew concerning what it all means, regardless of how open they are with describing all the unique aspects of the story being told. A commentary would have been great as well, but there’s more than enough interview material with director Christian Petzold. The booklet that arrives in the case is also a solid addition.

Features Include:

  • Making of Transit (HD, 23:58) – A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the film, featuring interviews with the cast and crew, as well as footage from the production. Presented in German with English subtitles.
  • The Cinema of Transit: Interview with Director Christian Petzold (HD, 6:00) – Petzold goes over his influences and what it means to be a director. Presented in German with English subtitles.
  • Christian Petzold Q&A at Film Society of Lincoln Center (HD, 25:56) – Another interview with Petzold, who continues to go over his choices to adapt the novel and make this film. Presented in English.
  • In Transit: Thrown Into The World (HD, 41:38) – A conversation with Petzold and actress Barbara Auer, moderated by Ben Gibson at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2018. Presented in English.
  • The Refugee As A Person: Interview with Franz Rogowski (HD, 9:17) – A conversation with lead actor Rogowski. He details the challenges and thoughts he had on his character. Presented in English.
  • Franz Rogowski: Shooting Star (HD, 3:16) – A brief interview with Rogowski. Presented in English.
  • Theatrical Trailers (HD)
  • Collector’s Booklet Featuring Interviews and an Essay by Ignatiy Vishnevetsky


Transit stands high among the films I have seen in 2019. It takes a great story and applies a unique approach that helps it stand out as an interesting exploration of our time, and the times from the past. The film looks and sounds excellent, thanks to the terrific Blu-ray transfer, and the collection of extras is a fine way to round out the package as a whole. If you’re looking for a drama that attempts to do a little more, Transit is a film to seek out.

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

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