Petzold’s film constitutes a radical translation of Seghers’ novel by transforming her tale of political refugees in Vichy France into an existential allegory depicting the fluidity of identities and relationships in a globalized world. The transitory existence of Petzold’s war refugee serves as an extreme example of the instability of modern life, which allows spectators to identify and empathize with migrants’ unpredictable journeys. Moreover, the director conveys the universality of his protagonist’s story by portraying him as an Everyman bereft of distinctive personality traits, by intermingling the past (Seghers’ plot) with the present (contemporary settings), and by situating his experiences in non-descript, liminal “non-places.” Both thematically and aesthetically, narrative is portrayed as establishing a community in an unstable contemporary world. Like the anti-hero of many modern Bildungsromane, Petzold’s protagonist fails to develop a stable identity and enduring friendships that anchor him in a community, but he creates his own family of listeners through his storytelling. In a similar vein, the film’s voice-over/narrator that bridges the fictional world with that of the audience underscores the film’s (and the novel’s) central theme: in a world of rapid change and mobility, the individual who may not be able to establish a stable identity or relationships, can create, as a narrator, a community of empathic listeners.
Landwehr, M. (2020). Empathy and Community in the Age of Refugees: Petzold’s Radical Translation of Seghers’ Transit. Arts, 9(4), 1-22. http://dx.doi.org/10.3390/arts9040118