Is this Hell in Transit?

In ways complex, subtle and surreal, Christian Petzold has crafted another enthralling think-piece / thriller with Transit. When troubled opportunist Georg (Franz Rogowski) agrees to deliver papers to a writer looking to flee the fascist take-over of France and quickly finds the writer has committed suicide, a sea of events take place leading to Georg to Marseilles where he becomes entangled in the stories of a multitude of refugees, including the dead writer’s wife, Marie (Paula Beer), who knows not her husband is dead and has fallen into the arms of an altruistic doctor (Godeheard Giese) who passed up a passage to Mexico to stay with her while she still pines for her husband to join her.

While this bizarre love triangle (or is it a square?) built upon stolen identities and pining for those already passed on (both literally and metaphorically) is enthralling enough on its own, Petzold layers in side stories to enrich Georg’s tale. When he first arrives in Marseilles from Paris, he has to deliver bad news to the wife and young son of his traveling companion who died in transit, and he quickly becomes immersed in their loneliness. The woman (now widowed) is mute and deaf, and the boy (now orphaned) is just looking for someone to play soccer with, and both had been waiting in Marseilles for the boy’s father who was to help them all flee to the mountains. Meanwhile Georg gets distracted by his own conflicting drives to flee and stay. His feelings for the boy (who has an asthma attack after Georg takes him to an amusement park) are what lead him to the doctor and Marie, and when he falls for Marie, too, his feelings and anguish only become more twisted. Meanwhile other refugees come and go from his stage (a sickly conductor, an architect stuck with her client’s abandoned dogs), all longing for someone to listen to their story, just as Georg ends up telling his story to the proprietor of the restaurant where he, Marie, and the doctor frequent.

Based on a novel by Anna Seghers, whose original context for the story was Nazi-occupied France, Petzold makes a bold choice in assigning no definitive time period to the story…it could’ve been told then…it’s certainly potent now. Continue reading

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Village of the Damned

In the year preceding the start of World War I, a small German village is quietly rocked by a series of cruel events (crimes against the seemingly innocent) committed by unknown culprits in Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon.  The town’s children are both potential victims and suspects as the twisted natures of their parents’ sins are soon laid bare.  In the midst of paranoia and gossip (though not as pointedly delicious as Clouzot’s Le Corbeau), a kind schoolteacher woos a sweetly naive nanny, a baron’s marriage disintegrates, a steward’s family crumbles, a pastor spares no rod and a doctor commits the greatest of sins.  Originally conceived as a mini-series, there are many narrative threads and characters to keep track of, and Haneke provides glimpses into the varied lives of the different classes at work in the village and constructs something akin to a psychological case study of the personality types on display.  One wonders how much more some of the stories would’ve opened up had Haneke the luxury of six or more hours to weave his tale.

The biggest problem with a Michael Haneke film is that it’s a Michael Haneke film.  Continue reading

Barack Obama in Greeneland

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930s Mexico is among mine and Obamas favorite novels.

This tale of a whiskey-priest running from fascists in 1930's Mexico is among my and Obama's favorite novels.

 

So Mr. Obama was sworn in as our 44th President earlier today.

At first, I wasn’t blown away by his speech, but that was until I came home and found an email from my mother stating she read somewhere that among Obama’s favorite books was The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene.  This is what makes the speech so brilliant.  It wasn’t designed for instant applause but for deep thought and as an invitation to learn more.  It wasn’t just a stump-speech, but a grand design for the policies which will follow and a call to arms for Americans to be that change they want to see in the world.

It seems Barack lives in Greeneland, which should make pragmatists rejoice.  Listening back to the endless loops and sound-bites from the speech, I was astounded by how Greene-esque his worldview might be.  Just the fact that he acknowledges or is aware of such a worldview is a refreshing change of pace from the crypto-fascism of the previous White House regime.  What a wonderful thing it is to have a President who has such a great command of language and who knows how to invoke literature and history and create themes and motifs.  Obama is like the frickin’ Graham Greene of politicians.  And how awesome is it that he has read and loves Greene, especially since Greene was so political in his writing.  This points to Obama being even more practical and pragmatic than we thought, which will be great since Bush was stupidly obsessed with fairytales and jihads which crippled our nation and prevented us from succeeding in the real world. 

Graham Greene was always writing about the real world.  His books always spoke to the times and always had characters who crashed and burned when they got too wrapped up in their own heads and internal moral battles and fantasies.  The real world always kept moving in Greeneland and always survived while those foolish characters more often than not perished.  We need a President now more than ever firmly planted in the real world.   Obama’s over-riding theme of, and I am grotesquely paraphrasing here, “the world sucks right now, but slowly and surely we’re gonna overcome it as long as we keep our heads about us and everyone steps up their A-game” really was Greene-esque.  Bush would’ve left it all to God’s hands and prayed about it–he would’ve died in Greeneland by the end of the novel.  Let’s hope Obama inspires us to continue marching on.  Mankind’s innate will to survive can overcome anything and accomplish everything. 

And it seemed like he was speaking not only to those out in the real world wishing to do us harm, those terrorists, those fascists, but also to those who have had their heads stuck in the sand, those Bushes, those mortgage companies, those regulators, those uninvolved…when he said so simply and so firmly…

YOU CAN NOT OUTLAST US.  WE WILL DEFEAT YOU.

Let’s not forget, Graham Greene was fiercely religious, but he often found it difficult to reconcile that with the real world.  This manifested itself in his protagonists who often were blinded by a crisis of faith and rendered impotent against the rising tides of war and change in the real world.  Many felt the British and worldly Greene was staunchly anti-American in his views, so it’s difficult to know how he would’ve thought about our current state of affairs.  Always the skeptic, Greene might’ve been wary of Obama…but as one of Greene’s Catholic nuns might’ve said in some third-world hell on earth in one of his stories, “God answers the prayers of those who move their feet.”

With Obama stepping into the White House, it’s time to move our feet, America.

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Click here to visit Greeneland .

 

Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.
Throngs of people today visited Greeneland with Barack Obama lighting the way.

Written by David H. Schleicher