The notion of absurdly long train journeys has always been highly romanticised: the rolling scenery, the fleeting yet deep connections made. For most, these journeys will always be the stuff of fiction, simply daydreams. In Transit, the final film of “the dean of documentary film making”, Albert Maysles, is a short look at the lives of some of the passengers aboard The Empire Builder, a busy train route that runs cross-country from Chicago to Portland.
In Maysles’ signature fly-on-the-wall style, audiences meet the wide range of passengers making the journey – some heading home, some out for an adventure – and see new friendships forged and relationships end. The documentary aims to be heartwarming and pensive, and to open eyes to the lives of those around; unfortunately it falls just short of its mark.
The film starts out strong: the first few passengers introduced are bright-eyed and interesting, their stories and kernels of wisdom are touching, but by the twenty-minute-mark the romance is beginning to wear a little thin. The characters are a bit hit-or-miss in grasping attention, and though there are a few whose stories keep the viewer hooked, it can be difficult to stay focused during the interim.
There’s no way around it though – the cinematography is beautiful. The range of landscapes the train passes through, plains, forests, mountains, even the shots of the cities by night are gorgeous, but that’s not quite enough to make up for the long stretches of boredom. In Transit might be the perfect film to unwind to on a quiet, introspective evening and it does have a few touching moments scattered throughout, but it doesn’t quite awaken the warmth and wanderlust it sets out to.
In Transit does not yet have a UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for In Transit here: