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Where fictional literary adaptations risk little in terms of causing offense (hello Shakespeare), 2018 German-drama Transit walks the fine line between poetic licensing and insensitivity by transitioning the horrors of Nazi-occupied France into modern day.
The scope of Transit‘s narrative is equal parts circumstance as it is consequence, with German man Georg (Franz Rogowski) adopting the identity of a deceased writer who has permission for passage to Mexico. Georg’s survival is dependent on his ability to portray the writer when present at the immigration, however, his escape is compromised when Marie (Paula Beer), the widow of the deceased writer Georg claims to be, comes into contact with him.
Going in without prior knowledge of Anna Seghers’ 1942 novel of the same name, it is too quickly apparent the events within 2018 German-drama Transit parallel those from WWII. The experience of living in terror under constant fear of ethnic cleansing, is worn on the faces of each cast member as they navigate risky decisions that risk their capture, if not murder.
The manner which characters go about their survival is both complex and stimulating. Georg is continuously troubled by the effects his actions have on those caught in his lies, which is exacerbated as he becomes close to Marie. His life is dependent on this charade. The increasing possibility of Marie discovering his lie puts his plans (and life) into greater jeopardy than it was already in.
Despite his lies, Christian Petzold succeeds in not presenting Georg as despicable, with Georg’s arc in the film changing from being a man motivated by his own survival to someone weighed down by the pressure of his lies and how they affect those closest to him. This is further testament to the talent of Petzold and his ability to maintain a sense of dread and tension throughout Transit.
The literary feel of Transit is developed courtesy of in-depth storytelling, well-roundedness in character development, and the continued exploration of events having reactions on all involved. Narration accompanies the film throughout as a way for characters to internalise the trauma of those bound by injustices and the internal struggle they must battle with when deciding to act, or not, at the hands of life-threatening situations.
Rogowski is first class as a civilian doing what needs to be done to survive treacherous times and is balanced out by Beer whose optimistic belief her husband is alive, and the lengths she will go to risk her safety to find him, are sure to break your heart.
It is hard to ignore an experience indebted in Jewish culture is absconded in Transit, with the removal of the Jewish plight done-so to highlight how prejudice transcends into now yet by doing so inadvertently disassociates the film from the important history it is based on.
Director: Christian Petzold
Cast: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese
Writer: Christian Petzold, (Based on the novel Transit by Anna Seghers)
I am like a donkey ready to kick when startled, so you can be assured that reviewing a VR installation like ‘Joan Ross: Did You Ask the River?’ (JRDYATR) is nerve-racking.
However, there was no screaming on my part in JRDYATR; an immersive 360 experience that requires the use of a headset to explore a pre-colonial coastal setting yet to be ravished by Western civilisation.
A commentary on the destructive nature of consumption and colonisation, JRDYATR bounds its participant, a woman adorned in a canary yellow dress, in a small rectangular space loaded with an array of Mad Hatter-esque items each of which prompting their own chain of reactions.
In the ten or so minutes I had in JRDYATR, I was able to destroy the forest, (poorly) apply lipstick, breed what looked like 100 rabbits, take a selfie, and find a drawer loaded with cake that would have Marie Antoinette drop her jaw. Otherwise, I spent a lot of time wandering and wondering what there was to do next in the installation, with technical issues prohibiting me from interacting with certain elements and ultimately left me with feelings of frustration over how jarring and incomplete the experience was.
The current state of virtual reality is at the same place where Nokia was before the smartphone, and unfortunately, this is evident in JRDYATR with the installation having the look of a 90’s Nintendo 64 game with all the functionality issues of an 80’s Atari game.
All this being said, there is much promise for VR based installations, and though the experience with JRDYATR was troublesome, it speaks to exciting opportunities for future pieces to take full effect of the medium.
Joan Ross: Did You Ask the River? screens at ACMI from March 7th through to March 31st 10am-5pm daily. This is a free event. Find out more on the website here.
Please take this opening sentence as an extension of my hand to shake yours.
I have always been interested in watching more Australian films, with my recent decision to start movie reviewing allowing me the opportunity to fulfil this desire. But then, there are films like Book Week, a movie which makes me reconsider my interest in watching more Australian films.
Book Week suffers from bouts of hysteria; a melodramatic and cliché bound story about an unlikeable teacher (Nicholas Cutler, played by Alan Dukes) who has visions of grandeur but is let down by his self-destructive tendencies. In the week leading up to the settlement of a publishing deal, Cutler must come to terms with all aspects of his life including relationships at school, the needs of his family, and mistakes from his past that continue to haunt him.
There is a contradiction of sorts in Book Week, a film which holds quality literature in such high regard yet features a story that feels like a first draft. A film which presents itself as profound but is undone by contrived dialogue that attempts dark comedy yet comes across as amateur.
Dukes is captain of the vessel but is let down entirely by a thematically convoluted narrative which, just when you thought had finished introducing half-baked complications to keep the film afloat, adds another chapter in the series that ultimately builds to a ridiculous payoff.
Characters are caricatures in Book Week with attempts from the film to feel current feeling five years behind (are vampires still hot?) and as though the screenplay was written by a parent who had just learnt what dabbing was. There is a level of conviction shown by other actors in the film, however, they appear to have been instructed by writer/director Heath Davis to project their lines as if they were auditioning for a government commercial.
Female representation is troublesome, with all supporting female characters shown as angry, bothered and begrudging of Cutler, particularly that of a young love interest that furthers the problematic old-man-young-girl trope.
Most likely not in the way the director had intended for, there is some enjoyment to be had with the absurdity of Book Week, which is also disappointing considering some interesting terrain such as Cutler’s frustration with complacency sidelined for soap opera storytelling.
All-in-all, Book Week is an overstuffed attempt at dark-comedy let down by the pathos of its subject, which had the film been a book itself, there’d be plenty of copies available at the library waiting to be checked out, but never will be.
Director: Heath Davis
Cast: Alan Dukes, Susan Prior, Bonnie Ferguson
Writer: Heath Davis