An elegiac if delicately-directed film by Ozon about lies, truths and the aftermath of war affecting the lives of those that continue to live.
Dir. Francois Ozon
2016 | France/Germany | Drama/Romance | 113 mins | 2.39:1 | French & German
PG (passed clean) for thematic elements including brief war violence
Cast: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber
Plot: In the aftermath of WWI, a young German who grieves the death of her fiancé in France meets a mysterious Frenchman who visits the fiancé’s grave to lay flowers.
Awards: Won Best Young Actress & Nom. for Golden Lion (Venice)
International Sales: Films Distribution
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed at Alliance Francaise – first published 26 Oct 2017)
I’m not that familiar with the works of Francois Ozon, having only seen Swimming Pool (2003) and In the House (2012), both of which I enjoyed. But with Frantz, I am beginning to appreciate the talents of this underrated if prolific French filmmaker.
It is a delicately-directed film, the subtlety and restrain fitting very well with its elegiac tone. After all, the story is told from the aftermath of WWI, centering on a young German woman whose husband-to-be was killed in service. That woman, Anna, played with such astonishing grace by relatively newcomer Paula Beer, is central to the film’s thematic preoccupation with truths and lies.
A mysterious man sparks the narrative when Anna sees him laying flowers on her fiancé’s grave. He turns out to be a French soldier, named Adrien (Pierre Niney in a performance sure to reap praises).
As the story moves along, Ozon carefully treads between two main ideas: Firstly, the film asks of us to believe the account of Adrien as the audience takes the position of Anna, who’s curious to know what happened to her fiancé.
Secondly, the notion of war patriotism seeps into the narrative through the supporting characters and scenarios that involve nationalistic fervour. Both ideas are layered in such a way that the acrimonious post-war French-German relationship is brought out with sensitivity despite expressions of xenophobia.
Frantz is a film about the will to (continue to) live, even when the stars don’t align for justice or redemption to thrive. It is in some way a bleak movie that seems to want Adrien and Anna to self-destruct—because the trauma of WWI weighs too heavily on them, but Ozon manages to wring emotions out of the circumstances of his wounded characters, which suggests that he is a filmmaker of empathy.
A significant visual motif in Frantz is the image of Manet’s “Le Suicidé”, a picture of a man slouched on a bed who seemed to have shot himself. This portrait very much reflects the ephemeral nature of life and death, that in an instant, one could exist no more.
This delicate existential danger lurks within Ozon’s film almost like a Hitchcockian sleigh-of-hand, which is why Frantz feels like a deceptive part-mystery as much as it is an idiosyncratic anti-war film.