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Stars: Franz Rogowski, Paula Beer, Godehard Giese, Maryam Zaree, Lilien Batman, Barbara Auer, Sebastian Hulk, Matthias Brandt, Trystan Putter

Director: Christian Petzold

The theme of someone assuming the identity of a dead man has been infrequently explored in the cinema, perhaps most notably in Antonioni's The Passenger, but as far back as 1946 with The Captive Heart.

Here, it's perhaps incidental to mood and atmosphere in a story, ostensibly happening in 1940 but unsettlingly set in present-day France, that borrows elements of Conrad and Maugham, underlined by the offscreen presence of a narrator observing the fate of Georg (Rogowski), a Franco-German who, with the Nazis advancing in Paris, is desperate to escape to Mexico.

Trained as a radio and TV technician, he flees to a hotel, only to find that Weidel, a writer, has just committed suicide in the room he's renting.

En route to the port of Marseille, by way of freight train, his companion also dies and Georg looks up his wife and son in Marseille and befriends them.

While negotiating papers of transit - much like those that played such a key role in Casablanca - he encounters others seeking a flight to freedom: a conductor (Brandt), a lady with dogs (Auer) and a pretty woman (Beer) who seems to half-recognise him.

When the boy falls sick, the doctor (Giese) proves to be living with the mystery woman, who is the (unknown to her) widow of the suicide, whose name and papers Georg has taken.

The oppressive mood of the film indicates that few if any of these storythreads are destined to end happily. But there is much to admire in the directorial approach - yesterday happening today, as it were - and in the performances of Rodowski, who bears a striking resemblance to the young Joaquin Phoenix, and his trio of women. It's an intriguing venture.

David Quinlan

Germany/France 2018. UK Distributor: Curzon Artificial Eye. Colour by Transpalux.
101 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 0, Violence/Horror 0, Drugs 0, Swearing 1.

Review date: 13 Aug 2019