Run Time: 1 hour 41 minutes
Stars: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese
Writer/Director: Christian Petzold
In an outlandish experiment that gets just about everything right, German writer/director Christian Petzold sets this pulse-pounding World War II drama in present-day Marseilles, France.
The city is being flooded with refugees trying to escape advancing German fascists, hoping against hope to catch one of the last ships leaving for the Americas. But although the streets are jammed with 21st Century vehicles, the ships in the harbor are definitively modern, and the oppressive police are wielding the latest weaponry, it appears information technology has not advanced beyond the age of the copper-wire telephone line. The refugees clasp their passports and transit papers for dear life, waiting in long lines to have them rubber stamped by disinterested officials, whispering desperately to each other as they try to get hearsay news about the latest city to fall.
Into this maelstrom, having jumped a freight train from Paris, comes a fugitive named Georg (Franz Rogowski), carrying the passport and transit papers of a Parisian writer, a stranger to him, who committed suicide. He also has papers for the writer’s wife Marie (Paula Beer), who left her husband and fled to Marseilles to be with a world-famous humanitarian physician (Godehard Giese).
In Marseilles, Georg happens to meet Marie, who doesn’t know her husband is dead, and with whom Georg falls almost instantly in love. He wants to give her the papers — she’s been waiting for her estranged husband to bring them — but to do so would require him to admit he’s masquerading as that guy.
You don’t have to be a cinephile to hear the echoes of Casblanca here, but Petzold has created an intriguing and deeply involving variation on the theme. In an era when Europe is being riven by mass immigration, he boldly casts Europeans themselves as the refugees, desperately seeking safety beyond their native shores.