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German Films in Competition
by Becky Tan

And the winner is: - not a German film in sight, although there were several excellent candidates in competition. For example, TRANSIT should have won easily. Directed by Christian Petzold, it opens at the beginning of World War II when German troops occupy France, right outside Paris. People are “in transit,” hoping to board a ship to escape from various fates which might await them. Many go to the harbor city of Marseille, which they can enter only if they prove that they have the correct papers to move on to another country such as Mexico. As a result, these refugees line up outside the Mexican and other consulates and await a turn to settle the problems of fleeing the country. George (Franz Rogowski) has a good chance, since he has taken over the identity of a friend named Weidel, who committed suicide when faced with too many problems. Weidel was a writer (George has his unpublished manuscript in his luggage) and, most important, he had a transit visa for himself and his wife. While in Marseille, George visits Melissa and her daughter Driss (excellently played by Lilien Batmann). Melissa’s husband Heinz died while trying to flee. However, most important, George meets another woman: Marie (Paula Beer) and they fall in love. Gradually we learn that Marie is desperately seeking her husband who has disappeared. Who is this husband? Naturally, it is Weidel, the person, whom George is impersonating in order to leave the country.

Confusing at times: all about leaving or, maybe, being left? Perhaps this isn’t really about refugees, although it is a pertinent topic, considering the large numbers which have amassed in Germany. Based on the 1944 book by Anna Segher who had similar experiences, having fled to Mexico during the war, perhaps it’s really a love story. The main musical background is the song “Road to Nowhere” by Talking Heads, which tells the story perfectly in a nutshell.

This showed towards the beginning of the festival. Towards the end was another excellent German film called IN DEN GÄNGEN (which translates to “In the Aisles.”) by Thomas Stuber. Almost all of the action takes place with workers in a wholesale warehouse, much like the METRO store in Hamburg, where workers stack boxes on shelves or collect objects to be sold. This is definitely hard physical labor for little money. Christian (Franz Rogowski) is new, and as he becomes acquainted, we also become acquainted with his co-workers as he tries to find his way into this job of travelling up and down long aisles on foot or behind a forklift truck (for which he has to pass a test to get the license to drive). Bruno teaches him the ropes; he falls in love with Marion (although she is married and later falls ill). She calls him “Frishling” or newbie. This takes place in former Eastern Germany and probably is more real than we imagine. I am still curious where the idea for this story came from. Here, again, one song summarizes it all: the black spiritual “A True Friend is Hard to Find” by Son House.

Two films which should have won prizes. The star in both cases is actor Franz Rogowski. He represented Germany this year as one of nine “European Shooting Stars.” Just 32 years old, he originally comes from Freiburg and has been on stage in Hamburg’s Thalia Theater. He started out with a supporting role in the film Victoria which won prizes at the 2015 Berlinale and went on to act in leading and supporting roles, then to appear twice at this 2018 Berlinale, as well as in a new film: Lux – Krieger des Lichts. Rogowski is unique in that he isn’t your typical pretty boy. He even has a slight cleft palate, although that is not a distracting factor in his speech, which he does easily in German, English, and Italian.