During the six more weeks of winter phase of a post-WWII Soviet Union, Tom Roberts’ In Tranzit chatters its teeth through the sluggish goings-on of an all female-staffed POW camp on the outskirts of Leningrad, where a new group of German soldiers has been dumped. Suspecting war criminals to be hiding in their midst, cog in the machine Colonel Pavlov (John Malkovich) orders Vera Farmigia’s tenderhearted staff doctor Natalia to ply the prisoners into opening up about their pasts, while a baker’s dozen of other subplots battle for attention in this desultory window into a culture of repression.
Assembling the usual clichés about post-war resentment, betrayal, and forbidden love, it satisfies itself with the task of ticking boxes more than bringing any one plot thread to full, tragic life. The fermented emotional remains of the greatest war in modern history are bottled up in the camp, which ultimately translate into bored pettiness and selfishness, along with an intense desire to get things back to normal. Everyone has a different way of getting there, which makes for some interesting turns, but the powder keg potential of their scenario is never fully exploited. Bodies living and dead are dragged away in classic Soviet style, whereupon the film simply shifts its attention to the next little drama waiting to be obliterated by the authorities.
With a moral compass to match the winter sky, it goes to the trouble of wringing its hands over the Stalinist regime’s treatment of not only its prisoners of war, but its own people, shown particularly in Pavlov’s explicitly stated intent to use the camp’s sexual dynamics to his advantage. If there’s one subplot that deserves more attention, it’s the confused relationship between the lonely German soldiers and Russian women whose men were donated to the Soviet war machine. Instead, it only surfaces in Natalia’s understated rapport with Thomas Kretschmann’s stolid Max before being addressed at the very end, by which point it’s too late to really dive into the topic.
In Tranzit covers its bases but does little more in its conventional angling on the POW drama. Instead of capturing the dullness and dejection of the camp by creative means, it does it by imitation, maintaining a subdued atmosphere characterized by a plain script and equally unenthused execution. For viewers it’s the same cold potatoes that the prisoners get.