Anna Segher's novel Transit (1944) is the leitmotif of this film essay on German exiles in France and their escape to the South after Hitler marched into Paris. But Fluchtweg nach Marseille is neither adaptation nor documentary: actors recite and react to passages from the novel. Eyewitnesses speak. Documents from the Nazi era are contrasted with images of places and landscapes in which the settings of persecution and escape come back to haunt both the filmmakers and us. This is a search for evidence that interweaves facts, personal recollections, and both literary and visual reflections.
Fluchtweg nach Marseille - West-Germany 1977 - Directed and written by: Ingemo Engström, Gerhard Theuring Cinematography: Axel Block, Melanie Walz Sound: Karlheinz Roesch Edited by: Heidi Murero, Elke Hager - Cast: Katharina Thalbach, Rüdiger Vogler, François Mouren-Provensal - Contemporary witnesses: Ruth Fabian, Peter Gingold, Alfred Kantorowicz, Ernst Erich Noth, Ida Pozner, Vladimir Pozner - Sprecher: Reinhart Firchow, Hildegard Schmahl - Production: Theuring-Engström Filmproduktion, Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln - Premiere: 12. October 1977 (Internationale Mannheimer Filmwoche) - Full runtime: 209'
Escape Route to Marseilles
The starting point of this film goes back to the early 1970ties, where we were reading Bertolt Brechts Arbeitsjournal, that's to say his work journal, which was a kind of collage of pictures, press photos, press cuttings and personal notes, which we considered as a kind of method, a sort of model for working with film. We had at this time recently achieved our studies at the Film- Academy in Munich, we had just finished our first fictional or experimental films, DARK SPRING (Ingemo Engström) and LEAVE ME ALONE WHY DID YOU LEAVE AMERICA (Gerhard Theuring), and we were looking to create our own independent film production, what was done in 1974. At this time, there were special fiction-, film- and literature-departments on a German TV-station (WDR), where young filmmakers had the possibility to develop their low budget-projects, and ESCAPE ROUTE TO MARSEILLES had been produced in this way. The film had a great echo after his start in cinema and television and he was programmed at many international film festivals. After what he was not only distributed and seen in different countries, but there were also several workshops and investigating works at its purpose. So we had in fact a never-ending attachment to this film through many years and decades till today.
What is the subject of the film? Its subject is to trace the escape route of the German emigrants in France in 1940/42, with Anna Seghers' novel Transit as leitmotif. We are saying leitmotif and not "film adaptation". Not at all. ESCAPE ROUTE TO MARSEILLES is the exact opposite of this. That's to say that the film consists in fact in a pure and mere contrapuntal confrontation of images, words and voices, landscapes and human faces, testimonies, archived documents, theoretical and factual propositions, musical evocations and nature impressions, all sorts of languages, whereof can arise the pure song of resistance. And it's exactly in this manner that the novel of Anna Seghers is present in the film, that is to say as the narrative text which it is, as such represented by Rüdiger Vogler in a sort of "distant incarnation". And it's the same for Katharina Thalbach, who has the female part in the book and in the film and who appears in the second part of the film.
So, the real subject of the film is resistance. Résistance as a historical movement in France. But also resistance as the invisible, but constant background of the film. And resistance in the making of the film itself. Which finally gives him it's form and structure. Which aspect provoked the mul- tiple echo in its contemporary and also later reception. What is résistance in the 1940ies? What is resistance in the 1970ies? And especially: what is resistance in the making of a film? This is in fact the constant questioning and central purpose of the film. Not to "represent" history, but to make history present.
In which context we refer to Walter Benjamin. Who, in a memorable script, had pronounced this fundamental idea, that we have to "articulate the past historically", in a sort of "memory, as it flashes up in a moment of danger". Where the rescue of the past accords with the rescue of the present. Our present. Here and now. Presently. "In a moment of danger", as Benjamin says. Dan- ger, because, if this fails, both, past and presence, will be for ever lost. Benjamin developed this idea in his last script, Über den Begriff der Geschichte / About the Concept of History, which is a short, but fundamental script in every sense. It was probably a copy of this script that Benjamin had with him on his flight over the Pyrenees in 1940. Trying in some way not only to save his own life but also a highly significant thinking. This episode, the flight over the Pyrenees, has a central place in the film. Which also marks the center of its own questioning and purpose. And we were probably, in 1975, one of the first ones to set out for Port Bou, which marks Benjamin's last station in this world. Whose cemetery Hannah Arendt described in these words: "The cemetery looks out onto a little bay, right over the Mediterranean. It is one of the most fantastic and beautiful spots that I have seen in all my life." Where abruptly and in a stupendous way we discovered the mul- tiple implications concentrated in this place. Place of a sepulcher, which was said to be apo- cryphal. Place of a sepulcher, which meanwhile disappeared. Place of a New Angel, which there appeared to us for the first time. A place in its untouched, in its cryptic, in its clandestine and confidential epiphany, in its wilderness and virginity. Yes, in a moment of danger, for us and at all. "The true picture of the past whizzes by. Only as a picture, which flashes its final farewell in the moment of its recognizability, is the past to be held fast. ... For it is an irretrievable picture of the past, which threatens to disappear with every present, which does not recognize itself as meant in it." This is, what about ESCAPE ROUTE TO MARSEILLES are speaking of.
Ingemo Engström & Gerhard Theuring
- Fluchtweg nach Marseille Teil 1 1977, 93'
- Fluchtweg nach Marseille Teil 2 1977, 113'
- 20-pages trilingual booklet
Edited by: Filmmuseum München in collaboration with Deutsche Kinemathek Berlin and Goethe-Institut München
DVD authoring: Gunther Bittmann, Tobias Dressel
DVD supervision: Stefan Drössler
First edition March 2023