Transit

Director Christian Petzold is among the most significant and accomplished filmmakers in modern German cinema, adept at weaving mysterious, swooning romantic dramas into the traumas and trials of history, as in his stellar Phoenix (2014) and Barbara (2012). His latest, the elusive and slippery Transit (rated M), bears the hallmarks of his earlier films - a doomed romance, a wartime setting and a tightly controlled sense of simmering emotion that never quite comes to boil.

Adapted from Anna Seghers' novel of the same name, written in 1942, Transit tells the story of Georg (Franz Rogowski, bearing a startling resemblance to a young Joaquin Phoenix), a refugee fleeing oppressive forces occupying Europe in World War II. The only twist? This film takes place in the modern day. It's a beguiling, deliberately obfuscating choice, Petzold retaining all the trappings of Nazi occupation in France (as Georg finds himself trapped in Marseilles, awaiting a transit visa to Mexico), but the oppressive forces wear combat armour and drive armoured trucks, rather than goosestep and roll tanks through French streets.

It's a bracing, at times clumsy decision, drawing direct parallels between Nazi Germany and the modern global refugee crisis which, while entirely apt, can take some time to gel within the framework of the story. Nevertheless, the film remains sumptuous and powerful, weaving a sense of inevitable tragedy into the strange romantic entanglement Georg finds himself falling into while in hiding. Petzold has lost none of his ability for earth-shattering, perfectly pitched final scenes and, much like his two previous films, Transit ends in an ellipsis, a drawn-in breath, never to be exhaled.
Rating: Four stars

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All three of Petzold's films of the 2010s - Barbara, Phoenix and Transit - are being shown at Academy Cinemas this weekend as part of their Director Spotlight series. You'll be hard-pressed to find better, more vital modern film-making on the big screen this weekend, particularly Phoenix, which is undoubtedly one of the finest films of the decade.

Opera star Luciano Pavarotti is the focus of Ron Howard's new film.
Opera star Luciano Pavarotti is the focus of Ron Howard's new film.

Pavarotti

I have a real soft spot for Luciano Pavarotti, whose music has always been a big part of my family - which is perhaps why I also had a soft spot for Ron Howard's warm-hearted, sweeping Pavarotti (rated E). Following on from his similarly rose-tinted Eight Days a Week, Howard's exploration of the life and music of the world's most beloved tenor rarely sinks below the surface in any meaningful way but is light enough on its feet to remain a bubbly, sporadically moving tribute to the singer. Howard attempts to squeeze essentially the entirety of Pavarotti's life into the film's timeframe, occasionally giving one the feeling of watching a Wikipedia entry come to life. The use of archival footage, rare and candid interviews and the constant undercurrent of Pavarotti's music sweeping the narrative along provides occasional moments of profundity and a renewed appreciation for one of the most iconic international celebrities of the 20th century. An enthusiastic and kind-hearted profile.
Rating: Three-and-a-half stars