Henry Moore OM, CH Storm at Sea, 1970–4


Commentary on the series produced by Netflix

Transatlantic is a series produced by Netflix and Studio Airlift from Berlin that premiered on the platform of streaming at the beginning of this month of April. Based on the book The Flight Portfolio (2019), by Julie Orringer, was produced by the American of Jewish origin Anna Winger, who lives in Berlin.

The series follows European refugees from Nazism who find themselves in the French port city of Marseille looking to take a boat that will take them away from that continent – ​​and, above all, to the United States. Or, if not, at least cross the Spanish border by land and arrive in Lisbon to do the same from there.

The year is 1940 and the Vichy collaborationist regime is in force, even though the south of France, where Marseille is located, was not yet occupied by German troops as was the case in the rest of the country. It is in this occupied France and in this Marseille not yet fully under Nazi control that Transatlantic brings characters such as Walter Benjamin, Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall, Marcel Duchamp, André Breton, Jacqueline Lamba, Max Ernst, Walter Mehring and Albert Hirschman to the stage.

For readers of Walter Benjamin, it is hard to believe seeing him on Netflix, even though, on the other hand, it is precisely this type of appropriation movement that the cultural industry carries out incessantly. Readers of Hannah Arendt had already seen her in the film about her released in 2012, which had some success in semi-commercial cinema circuits.[I] Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt are portrayed in the series in a caricatured way, he talking about progress and she about statelessness.

Albert Hirschman, a young man of 25 at the time, is one of the three central characters who articulate the plot, along with Mary Jayne Gold and Varian Fry, these last two North American representatives of the American Emergency Rescue Committee. A character with the air of a pop hero, the impetuous Albert Hirschman is not yet the one who will later work in Colombia, make an academic career in the United States, discuss themes of development economics, propose the possibilism approach and contribute to the debate on democracy , gaining a center named after him in Geneva.[ii]

Unlike Gold and Fry, who were committed to the cause of refugees, the pragmatic American consul in Marseille sees war as a business as usual and considers that the Nazis, unlike the Communists, are at least not against the market.

Despite its stylization, which does not deviate from the commercial standard of Netflix, the series, which with only seven episodes can please those who do not like this format, has the merit of putting a wider audience in contact with figures such as Walter Benjamin and Hannah Arendt and the drama of his flight from National Socialism. Transatlantic it also sheds some light on the dubious role of the US government and individuals in the period – even though the figure of the consul in the series, Graham Patterson, is a fictional character.

But perhaps the least explored issue so far on screen has been the role of the children of former French colonies in organizing what would become the French Resistance. Just for portraying such a connection, it would be worth watching Transatlantic. What came next, with European imperialism in shambles at the end of World War II, was the strengthening of anti-colonial consciousness and the independence of new nations in Africa and Asia.

The emblem of such a conscience in the series is the fictional character Paul Kandjo, who, according to the actor who brought him to life, Ralph Amoussou, was composed as an amalgamation of historical figures. At one point, Kandjo states that Nazism represents the putting into practice in Europe of what Europeans did in the colonies. Such a conclusion will appear, in the beginning of the 1950s, in works such as Discourse on colonialism (1950), by Aimé Césaire, and The origins of totalitarianism (1951) by Hannah Arendt.

Hitler wanted to build a 1.000-year-old empire, but as people don't make history the way they want, the war his regime unleashed ended up contributing decisively to the dissolution of European imperialism.

*Ricardo Pagliuso Regatieri is professor of sociology at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA). Author, among other books, Unfettered capitalism: The critique of domination in the debates at the Instituto de Pesquisa Social in the early 1940s and in the elaboration of the Dialectic of Enlightenment (Humanitas).


[I] The film in question is Hannah Arendt, directed by Margarethe von Trotta.

[ii] This is the Albert Hirschman Center on Democracy, linked to Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, and currently co-directed by Brazilian sociologist Graziella Moraes Dias da Silva and Indian historian Gopalan Balachandran.

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