11 May 2020
Much as Jean-Luc Godard’s unsettling sci-fi classic Alphaville, Christian Petzold’s film disorients the viewer in such a way that being trapped in this Kafka-esque pseudo-reality becomes a hypnotic treat for the eyes and all of the other senses. We are in contemporary France, but the even though the visuals are similar to our contemporary experiences, the events, the interactions, the dialogue … they all seem to hark back to a past that is etched in our brains through countless films and series.
But is it that simple?
I would argue that even though the similarities to World War II are obvious (and the film is based on a novel that is explicitly set in that time), there is a timeless quality to it. The names of the countries, the political backdrop are familiar, but coupled with a modern setting, it all becomes much more profound than yet-another-war-film.
Franz Rogowski flees Paris as the occupying forces close in on the city. He has a ticket out of Marseille to Mexico, but he has some time to kill in the former before his ship sails. In the meantime he befriends the deaf mother and child of one of his comrades who died en route and a mysterious woman who was the wife of a writer that belonged to their cause … until his demise, after which Georg assumes his identity.
It’s a dazzling film, switching between German and French in a seemingly reckless abandon. Just when things seem to find a conventional rhythm, Petzold’s film throws another curveball that completely upends the narrative. I can’t praise it enough.