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Welcome to L.A. Weekly's Movie Guide, your look at the hottest films in Los Angeles theaters this week — from indie art-house gems and classics to popcorn-perfect blockbusters and new movies garnering buzz. Check here every week before you make your big-screen plans.

Limited/art-house

Friday, March 8

Over the last 10 years, Christian Petzold has established himself as one of the best pure storytellers in European cinema, and Transit maintains that high reputation. This quietly engrossing drama based on Anna Seghers' 1942 novel, updates the WWII setting to modern-day France without fundamentally changing the scenario. As an unspecified fascist power spreads its occupation throughout France, Georg (Franz Rogowski) assumes the identity of a writer who committed suicide. Knowing that a visa may be his only chance to escape his circumstances, he uses the dead man's papers to move between cities. First, he is tasked with conveying a deathly ill friend to his family in Marseilles, but when the man dies en route, Georg establishes a relationship with the fallen comrade's wife (Maryam Zaree) and son (Lilien Batman). Stuck in the port city awaiting an opportunity to buy a ticket to Mexico and freedom, Georg begins to mix with the refugees, and wait … and wait … and wait.

Soon, Georg meets the writer's wife (Paula Beer), who doesn't know her husband has died; he is compelled to keep up the façade even as he falls in love with her. But she has a boyfriend (Godehard Giese) who intends to escape with her. An uneasy triangle forms. Just when the film seems poised to conclude with a cruel twist of fate, an ambiguous final shot adds a masterful turn of the screw.

Working for the first time in a decade without formidable leading lady Nina Hoss, Petzold maintains a firm grip on the tiller, steering a plot that deepens into a series of moral dilemmas. Not a shot is wasted. Without straining, Petzold conjures up a subtly paranoid atmosphere. The persistent sound of sirens evokes a militarized, authoritarian state, and there is a late-in-the-game shocker involving a lit cigarette that makes expert use of what academics refer to as “offscreen space.”

The literary device of voice-over narration is tastefully and intelligently handled; it's as if we are being read a novel based on the events we are seeing by a character who only reveals himself in the last scene. Rogowski, who appeared in Michael Haneke's Happy End, is an intriguing presence, with a sleepy, lisping delivery reminiscent of Joaquin Phoenix.

Laemmle Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West L.A.; Fri., March 8, various showtimes; $9-$12. (310) 478-3836, laemmle.com.

Also opening Friday, March 8: 3 Faces; An Elephant Sitting Still; Babylon; Black Mother; Captain Marvel; Ferrante Fever; Gloria Bell; I'm Not Here; The Kid; Photograph

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