Synopsis: In the chaotic aftermath of WWII, a group of German POW's are accidentally sent to a female-run Soviet prison camp. When the guards are given the task of weeding out the SS officers, they play a bitter game of cat and mouse with the prisoners. Each group slowly learns that situations are not what they seem; prejudices are sometimes unjustly held; and love can be found in even the harshest places.
True story set in chilly Russia lacks heat and heart.
A drama about a group of German prisoners-of-war interned in a Soviet prison camp run by women shortly after World War II, In Tranzit is as cold, bleak and uninviting as the wintry landscape near St Petersburg.
The feature debut by English documentary writer-director Tom Roberts is based on a true story but is almost totally devoid of tension, marred by slack pacing, thinly developed characters and banal dialogue.
That’s a pity because this direct-to-DVD release squanders the talents of some fine actors led by John Malkovich, Vera Farmiga, Thomas Kretschmann and Daniel Brühl.
The opener establishes that female guards can be just as brutal and callous as their male counterparts as 51 German soldiers receive a chilly welcome. Soviet officer Pavlov (Malkovich) suspects that among their ranks are members of an SS squad who slaughtered Russian civilians in Leningrad. Pavlov instructs the prison’s doctor Natalia (Farmiga) to get to know the prisoners “intimately” so she can identify the culprits.
The compassionate Natalia has her hands full tending to the sick inmates and her husband Andrei (Yevgeni Mironov), who has been rendered mute and all but brain dead. Inexplicably, Andrei is allowed to work as a sentry manning the front gate so Natalia can care for him, rather than being sent to a sanitorium.
Despite her devotion to her husband, Natalia is soon exchanging meaningful glances with well-educated German prisoner Max (Kretschmann), while fellow worker Zina (Natalie Press) has an affair with an inmate, with predictable consequences. Meanwhile Natalia hits on the idea of encouraging the prisoners to form a band, an unexciting development.
The best scenes involve the good doctor and her dysfunctional husband, the desperate Zina, and Natalia and Max, but these aren’t enough to sustain the narrative or build momentum.
Everyone speaks English in this UK/Russian co-production but the accents are distracting. Some, like Farmiga, sound plausibly European, while Malkovich sounds American, Brühl sounds English and the music teacher, a Soviet Jew, is played by Irishman John Lynch, who makes no attempt to disguise his brogue.
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