Frantz

frantz-movie-rev Frantz  (2016)    Music Box Films/Drama    RT: 113 minutes    Rated PG-13 (thematic elements, brief war violence)    Director: Francois Ozon    Screenplay: Francois Ozon and Philippe Piazzo    Music: Philippe Rombi    Cinematography: Pascal Marti    Release date: March 31, 2017 (Philadelphia, PA)    Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stotzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Bulow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lencquesaing.      Spoken in German and French w/English subtitles  

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 Francois Ozon is one of the most daring filmmakers to come along in the past 20 years. His works include Under the Sand, 8 Women, Swimming Pool, Potiche, In the House, Young & Beautiful and The New Girlfriend. He’s not afraid to try new things. He doesn’t stick with one genre. He’s a very gifted director. His latest film Frantz, a remake of Ernest Lubitsch’s 1932 anti-war drama Broken Lullaby, doesn’t reach the same heights as many of his other films. Its anti-war message takes a back seat to its melodramatic elements, robbing it of some of the power it could have otherwise had. The underlying statements about the horrors of war and blind nationalism remain but Ozon shifts the focus to Anna (Beer), a young woman stricken with grief over the death of her fiancee in WWI.

 frantz-movie- posterSet in the small German town of Quedlinburg circa 1919, Anna still grieves for her fiancee Frantz (played in flashbacks by Anton von Lucke). She lives with his parents, Hans (Stotzner) and Magda (Gruber), acting as sort of a surrogate daughter. One day, she goes to the cemetery to place flowers on his grave and sees that somebody else has been there. She asks the groundskeeper who shows her a French coin and spits on the ground. She eventually learns the mystery mourner is Adrien (Niney, Yves Saint Laurent), a Frenchman who explains that he was friends with Frantz in pre-war Paris. She invites him to pay a visit to Frantz’s parents in hopes that it will bring them a small measure of comfort. It works. Even Hans, who holds the entire French race responsible for his son’s death, warms up to Adrien.

 A romance starts to develop between Anna and Adrien. Her sadness starts to fade as she grows closer to this friend of her late fiancee. Their relationship doesn’t go over well with many of the townspeople who still harbor ill feelings towards the French. Especially resentful is Kreutz (von Bulow), a middle-aged bore who persists in asking Anna to marry him even though it’s clear she doesn’t even like him. As for Adrien, it’s clear that he’s not telling them everything about his relationship with Frantz. He has a secret that, if revealed, could be devastating to those who loved Frantz.

 Although you may think you know what the secret it, I will neither confirm nor deny this. I’ll only say that Frantz deals largely with guilt and seeking forgiveness. At a certain point, Ozon narrows his focus to Anna and her attempts to come to terms with Frantz’s death and her feelings for Adrien who abruptly returns home after the truth finally comes out. She goes to Paris to find him after her letter comes back “Return to Sender”.

 Stylistically, Frantz is an interesting picture. Most of it is filmed in black and white, a creative choice that more often than not is gratuitous and showy. Not in this case however. The color scheme reflects the characters’ mood. During moments of happiness, the picture shifts from black-and-white to color. It’s a nice tonal augmentation. The acting, especially by Beer, is quite good. She convincingly plays the grieving fiancee who finally finds a way to get on with her life until halted by cruel circumstance. There’s also the matter of loyalty to one’s homeland. At this point in time, anti-German sentiment still runs deep in Germany. It’s barely been a year since the war that claimed the lives of many men (sons, husbands, brothers, etc.); the wounds haven’t even begun to heal. In one scene, Hans gets shunned by his friends in the local pub for his association with the Frenchman. He responds by reminding them that they are just as guilty for their sons’ deaths because they’re the ones that encouraged them to join the fight. While this scene stills holds great power, I imagine it made an even deeper impact in the original film, released just 14 years after the end of the Great War.

 I have a soft spot for period-set tearjerking melodramas and Frantz definitely fits the bill. It’s a good-looking picture in terms of cinematography, production design and costumes. The score by Philippe Rombi enhances the mood nicely. It may move too slowly for some but Frantz isn’t made for mainstream audiences. It’s every bit an art film, a term some of my less adventurous friends use derisively. One person in particular would dismiss it as “artsy-fartsy”. I take pride in my varied cinematic interests. I can just as easily enjoy a crappy B-level 80s slasher flick as a foreign film with high-art aspirations. I really like Frantz. It’s not an outstanding film but it’s still good even if it isn’t quite on par with the rest of Ozon’s work. 

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