Frantz – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by François Ozon
Stars: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner
Ozon (Swimming Pool 2003, In the House 2012) directs this story which emanates from a play written by Maurice Rostand after the First World War. It was adapted by Ernst Lubitsch in 1931 for the cinema with the title “Broken Lullaby”. Ozon has stated:
“Lubitsch’s film is beautiful and well worth seeing through the prism of the pacifist, idealistic context of the post-war era. But it’s the film of an American director of German descent who didn’t know a second world war was looming on the horizon. He made an optimistic film of reconciliation. My approach, as a Frenchman who did not experience either of those two wars, was obviously going to be different.”
Each day, Anna (Paula Beer) tends the grave of her fallen lover, Frantz, who was killed during the First World War in France on the front. She notices one day there are some flowers laid on the grave. It transpires they have been placed there by a young Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Ninney). Anna lives in the home of Frantz’s parents and the father is the local doctor. He is fervently, like the rest of the town, anti- French because of the atrocities of the war. Adrien’s initial reception is hostile, particularly by Frantz’s father. Anna approaches Adrien at the grave. Gradually between the heartbroken parents, Anna and Adrien, a rapprochement is achieved. But the relationship between Adrien and Frantz does not quite add up. There is an underlying enigma about what happened in France during the war. The truth is not told and a variety of consequential lies and interconnecting deceits are revealed.
Beer and Ninney are a perfect foil for each other. The text in the initial part of the film is primarily in German but then when the story moves to France, French predominates. The ease with which the two protagonists move between the languages is impressive. The camera work is primarily in black and white but in moments of joy, Ozon uses colour. It all intensifies the underlying suspense generated by the enigmatic premise on which the story is told.
The central characters are involved out of an apparent love of Frantz to try to surmount the horrors of the war. The societies in which they live are not so generous. Ozon keeps in magnificent balance the recent violent past of the war with the attempt of thoughtful people to reconcile. However individual motivations create new hard to understand realities. The complexity of the story is beautifully modulated. It demonstrates quietly but firmly the long term consequences of war on societies after the fighting is finished. It is a gem and not to be missed.