REVIEW: German Film Series: “Transit”

As soon as the credits roll I hightailed it out of the viewing room. I can’t stand the cold so I ran all the way home, and the scene was so terrible. There’s the harsh yellow of the streetlights reflecting all along the ice on the road, which is shining wetly like a giant tongue. I look back to check for headlights before I dash across the street to my block, and the wind takes the liberty of yanking through my hair so it flies in my face and mixes with the sickly lights.

So this might be my new favorite movie.

Georg’s expression at the last few frames was terrible. Forget Mona Lisa’s enigmatic smile, this guy creates a symphony with his painfully hopeful eyes and the gentle set of his lips, scarred from a childhood cleft palate surgery, only adding to the confused ambiance he creates. Throughout the film he occupies a character with infinite, though guarded, softness, while maintaining a fairly traditional father-figure posture. He is not completely any one thing, but I recognized a fragility in him I hoped wouldn’t prove to be dangerous for him. 

Marie is by contrast mostly flat, though her wishy-washy approach to everything still makes her a wild card. She is a ghost, pale and able to see through people. She reacts to conversation quietly, choosing subtlety over big outward expression, and in this way, she haunts.

Director Christian Petzold has made me the exact right kind of unsettled with Transit. There is so much casualness in this: a complete disregard for metaphors in the weather, the sun out even in times of keen distress; traumatic events regarded with little ceremony. Strangely it’s the smallest things that are amplified. Right off the sound seems wrong: the tiny tapping of a glass on a table rings out, a door sliding shut is like a jail cell clanging. All throughout I don’t quite understand what I’m feeling, unable to cry though I can sense sadness here.

The way Petzold plays with time works so well with the confusion of identities throughout the movie–cars and clothing and language are modern, but there are typewriters present, and historical architecture. Members of the Navy in Crackerjack-esque uniforms dine with our Georg in the local pizza shop; air travel is not mentioned, only by ship. The sleepy brightness of the seaside seems infinitely ancient in its sun-bleached scenery. Nazis are occupying countries all throughout Europe, but The traveling itself is another element, coming upon a new place full of strangers, trying to reach another, more obscure land across the ocean. It all collects together to blur any useful divide between the real and imagined.

Going back and forth to the hotel room and port and consulate did seem repetitive, without any discernible reasoning. Already there is a considerable amount of confusion present, so the redundancy of the dashings does nothing for the film’s emotional success. It only creates repeating, nearly identical cycles that do not move the plot forward.

Cycles are, however, the most important part of the movie, and may say something about the message Petzold was trying to convey. After Marie disappears back into the city at the end (as she does so well), Georg is left eternally waiting for her in the pizza shop, mournfully gazing out to meet the eyes again of the woman he had immediately fallen in love with. It seems she is free now, like he used to be, and he is stuck wandering looking for his lost love, the very sickness that had plagued her.

It’s interesting to drag a historical event out of its place comfortably in the past and out into the open modern era. It makes us nervous to consider whether political and military atrocities will really stay away from the present, or if we’re still capable of unbelievable things even after we have advanced as a society. Maybe they take different forms, but it is foolish to think we are any less evil than before, and thus we cannot pretend we live safely apart from those terrors.

REVIEW: Nosferatu

Nosferatu is oddly enough a character who is easy to relate to. I, too, am looking for suitable housing (an impossible task in Ann Arbor), sleep at hours these mortals deem “strange,” and have an awkward gait. But more deeply than that is a common feeling between Nosferatu and I of a sensationalized otherness. Perhaps his placement as a social pariah is based in folklore more ancient than my own, but the results are the same, creating a clear boundary between ourselves and genteel society. But this is not a feeling I suspect is unique to myself; however much we interact with others there seems to lurk some lingering doubt of our place amongst humanity. It is exactly this relatability to the undisputed villain of a story that enriches and truly enthralls.

Besides the titular character, I am most struck by Ellen, the heroine who is married to the real estate agent that is saddled with the responsibility to sell Nosferatu a house. She is the epitome of 1920s silent film glamour, with her wide eyes, expressively drawn eyebrows, and impossibily pale complexion. She is similarly ghoulish in appearance to Nosferatu, looking perfectly skeletal in the strength of her jaw and the hollows of her orbital cavities. Although the lady in distress act is a terrifyingly misogynistic trope, I think she is still able to exhibit her character’s strength even while continuously fainting and falling all over her brave husband. She is the reason Nosferatu is defeated, even if she is not credited much for her bravery. And through all the distress this lady goes through, her ringlets remain immaculate.

         

The movie as a whole is simply so encapsulating to experience. The architecture is dominated by heavy stone and dense wood, underground cavernous spaces and grand buildings that feel claustrophic despite their massive size. Though created and set in a time after the gothic period, that sense of aesthetics is present in all aspects of the film, from the buildings to the formality in the characters’ behavior and clothing.

Furthermore, the great Andrew Rogers added to the ambiance and feeling of the movie through his greatly talented organ playing. After the show, he came on stage and answered questions about his work. Amazingly, though there is some composed music for Nosferatu’s organ accompaniment, Rogers chooses to play it freestyle, taking his love of the movie and his knowledge of the instrument and turning it into song that perfectly plays up emotional moments and adds tension. He spoke with such passion, and I could feel how much he cared for the organ and its preservation. Though the movie is an hour and a half long, he doesn’t feel so much time passing, equating the performance to ten minutes of playing. His commitment to keeping this art form alive is truly inspiring, and it was so nice to see how fully lost he got in what he loves.

Andrew Rogers speaking on his experience with the ancient organ (which has just been completely refurbished, a painstaking procedure that was long overdue!).
As promised, I dressed for the occasion.

If you have not seen Nosferatu, I’d recommend renting it, especially during this Halloween season. Watch it alone in a dank, dark basement (if you dare) or with a group of friends and family all dressed as your favorite characters. Though I have not had the pleasure of group Nosferatu costuming, I feel that applying and rocking a bald cap with the people you love is a fabulous bonding experience.

REVIEW: Transit

Christian’s Petzold’s Transit is a sprawling, moral adventure that examines questions of loyalty, morality, and the modern global order in the face of fascism. Set primarily in the French seaside town of Marseille, the background to the drama is a façade of gorgeous pastel storefronts that police vans race past in a flurry of sound and light. The setting is noticeably modern; the outfits chosen by the characters, the ships in the harbor, the vehicles in the streets all clearly belong to the modern era, and it’s also clear that Petzold wants it that way. The ambiguity of eras is only one part of the ambiguity that Petzold has carefully constructed for his film, as he places grand amounts of trust in the viewer to think critically about and understand the messages he wants to send.

The ambiguous setting contains both undertones of the Nazi occupation of France, and the modern rise of fascism in Europe. Most of the characters in Marseille trying to flee are German, and although the identity of those occupying the country goes unsaid, references to Jews, “the occupation” and “cleansings” evokes strong similarities to the Nazi occupation of France during WWII. Yet there is also a modern twist. A family of African descent that the protagonist, Georg, befriends is described as “illegal”, living a careful life in avoidance of the authorities. Their entire apartment complex is revealed to be a haven for cautious, illegal families largely of African or Middle Eastern descent, mirroring the current refugee crisis in Europe. Petzold carefully draws the comparison between the historical threats we have learned to fear and the more modern ones we may have not.

The ambiguity stretches into the exposition of the characters and the choices they make. The narrator, who appears partway into the story, goes deliberately unnamed and largely unidentified for much of the saga, but he is identifiable as an outside observer, someone witnessing the events but not privy to the inner thoughts of the main characters themselves. Petzold also avoids the potential easy moralizing of his characters. They act in unpredictable and frequently selfish ways, given opportunities to act in a clear, ethical manner, they abstain for sometimes selfish reasons, and sometimes reasons wholly unclear and never explained. Petzold’s characters are constructed as complex, whole people, with rich, unexplained inner lives. And that is what makes Transitultimately worth seeing. The characters are rich, real people, with real, complex desires, who refuse to fall into the mold of action heroes or love interests. The film artfully touches on serious modern issues while simultaneously immersing the viewer in a carefully constructed world of drama and tension, the one the unexpected ending ultimately topples.

PREVIEW: Transit

Transit, a film directed by Christian Petzold and based on the 1940s novel by Anna Seghers, opens at the Michigan Theatre April 1st. Ms. Seghers’ novel is a depiction of a German in Paris desperately trying to escape the country during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s, by assuming the identity of a dead writer and seeking a ship to take out of the port city of Marseilles. Petzold takes this World War II drama and puts a unique spin on it, transporting it to the present where the threat isn’t as clearly defined as the Nazi occupation, but is something more modern and ambiguous. The film’s plot offers a tantalizing array of elements, from the dramatic action of a wartime saga, to a complex accidental love interest that jeopardizes the lead character’s plans, to a more philosophical look at the mirror 1940s Nazi France can hold up to today’s society. Transit is being shown in German, with English subtitles.

PREVIEW: MUSKET PRESENTS SPRING AWAKENING

As I sit on my bed and sing along to Mama Who Bore Me, I look back at my adolescence and remember the angsty phase where I wanted to know everything about life, sex and drugs and rock and roll and explore who I really was. Those glory days are over for me, sadly, when the adult world was all new, but Spring Awakening is a musical about teenagers who are discovering the inner and outer tumult of sexuality. It is being put up this weekend at the Power Centre by MUSKET, the University of Michigan’s student-run Musical Theatre organization.

Founded in 1908 as the Michigan Union Opera Company, MUSKET was once a small, all-male theatre troupe that specialized in presenting works written by University of Michigan students. Later realizing the irreverent nature of their gender limitations, the organization shifted its focus in 1956 to include students of all genders and changed their name to “Michigan Union Shows, Ko-Eds, Too”, or MUSKET for short. With this shift also came a change in the organization’s content – instead of producing student written operettas MUSKET began presenting Broadway-style musicals, a tradition that has lasted over 50 years. Spring Awakening is part of the commemoration of MUSKET’s 60th Performance Season. Each year, MUSKET presents two musical productions: one in the fall semester and one in the winter semester.

As described by director Wonza Johnson, Spring awakening is the “the Winner of 8 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, told through “the most gorgeous Broadway score this decade” (Entertainment Weekly) – SPRING AWAKENING explores the journey from adolescence to adulthood with poignancy and passion that is illuminating and unforgettable.”

With just 2 days to go, the musical theatre geek in me already has Spring Awakening on my Spotify playlist. I Believe is literally my anthem for this month through midterms and musical season.

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WARNING: THIS PLAY CAN BE A TRIGGER AS IT PORTRAYS
-References to past rape/child sexual abuse
-Explicit (consensual) sex
-Suicide and references to suicide
– Items used to commit suicide like guns, razors, etc.
-Death