Film Review: Frantz
FRANTZ (2017) DIR. FRANÇOIS OZON
This is a beautiful-looking elegiac post WWI melodrama from François Ozon. It is not what we have come to expect from this prolific contemporary French film maker known for sly subversive and sexually themed subject matter. It is filmed mostly in black and white with only occassional lapses into color. He presents essentially two distinct story trajectories with one connecting thread. That is the value of truth and when it will not not set you free but merely cause more pain. This is a delicate balance, sensitively handled which basically challenges a black and white point of view. In that regard, I suppose, it is Ozonesque.
The opening scene, set in Germany, is of a lovely young woman, Anna (Pauline Beer), walking purposefully toward a cemetery when she is stopped in her tracks by the sight of a delicate young man placing flowers at the very grave she is headed for. She stays back observing him and waits until he leaves. When she returns to the home she shares with her would-be-in laws we learn that she was the fiancee of Frantz, the only son of Dr. Hoffmeister and his wife, and his was the grave that she had been visiting. They live together in an extended state of grief and mourning. Later, when the young man, Adrien (Pierre Niney), a Frenchman, appears at the house he is rebuffed by Dr. Hoffmeister, who holds all French people responsible for the death of his son.
The Hoffmeisters are convinced to reconsider when Anna reveals to them that he is the one she saw at the grave of Frantz. And so they agree to receive him whereupon he explains that he knew Frantz in Paris before the war and has extremely fond memories of him. In happier times they played the violin together, visited museums and galleries and were close friends. These stories seem to comfort and alleviate the sense of loss for all three of them and they welcome Adrien into their home.
But all is not as it appears to be and the first revelation changes what was looking like a predictable plot into something altogether different. It puts Anna at the center and the story moves in a different and unexpected direction and Anna goes to Paris to find Adrien. To reveal more would be unfair. Suffice it to say that Anna becomes the keeper of a different truth and chooses to nourish and foster it for reasons that make sense to her. It allows her to establish a new course for her life while still protecting the memory of Frantz. While it is not a happy ending, it is less mournful open ended and allows for possibilities in Anna’s future.
The film is largely based on a little-known early Ernst Lubitsch film called Broken Lullaby set in Germany in 1919. It also resembles the earlier work in the way it has been shot without any typical modern techniques. It feels a bit like something produced for Masterpiece Theatre, which is not at all a bad thing. I feel that Ozon’s divergence from the earlier film give it greater depth and more interest.