FRANTZ (France/Germany 2016) ****
Directed by Francois Ozon
What would be another year without another film from French director Francois Ozon? Ozon’s last two films were JEUNE & JOLIE and LA NOUVELLE AMIE and my favourites are SITCOM and LES AMANTS CRIMINELS. Ozon’s films have often been about twisted love. FRANTZ is no different.
At one point in the film, the protagonist is given the message to live and love life. The advice is more easily said than done. Ozon’s entire film is devoted to prove the fact.
FRANTZ is Ozon’s (which he co-write with Phillippe Piazzo) elegant tale of love and remembrance set in a small German town in the aftermath of World War I (1914-1918). A young woman, Anna (Paula Beer) mourning the death of her fiancé, Frantz forms a bond with a mysterious Frenchman who has arrived to lay flowers on her beloved’s grave. The mourning is representative of a larger national mourning where many Germans (and French) soldiers lost their lives. The question immediate to ones mind is who the Frenchman is and why he is laying the flowers. With Ozon, an open gay director, the best guess (and mine too) is that the Frenchman is Frantz’s gay lover and that the gay relationship was kept from the family. That would have been too obvious. This is not the case. The secret is revealed and only revealed about the half way mark of the film.
Anna’s German home town are just beginning to emerge from the shadow of horrendous war. Frantz's parents are shattered over their son's death. The stranger reveals himself to be Adrien (Pierre Niney) who knew Frantz in the pre-war period, when the two of them became fast friends over their shared love of art and, in particular, music. But there is much more to the story, which is revealed a bit at a time in Ozon’s carefully calculated though slow moving tale of redemption.
Anna is convincingly portrayed by 21-year old Paula Beer. Pierre Niney, famous for his lead role in YVES SAINT LAURENT shows off his magnificent (despite the artificially inserted made up war wounds) male body, basking in the son, reminding the audience that this is a film by Ozon. Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber are also excellent playing Frantz’s parents Doktor Hans Hoffmister and Magda Hoffmeister.
A bit of needed tension is provided by the village’s hatred for the French. Whenever Adrien walks about alone or at night, there is fear that he might be killed or badly beaten.
There are many issues on display in this post World War 1 drama. The most important is the individual’s search for happiness. This is seen not only from Anna’s point of view but also from her suitor, Frantz’s parents and also from the much oder Mr. Kreutz (Johann von Bülow) who wishes Anna’s hand in marriage after hearing of Frantz’s death.
This is Ozon’s most emotional and sombre film, again meticulously crafted and though might be tedious to some, succeeds in the very end. The film is shot in both German and French, black and white and in colour. Ozon reportedly drew his inspiration from the Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 drama BROKEN LULLABY, with stunning visual references to painter Caspar David Friedrich. His next film L’AMAMT DOUBLE with his regular Jeremie Renier and Jacqueline Bisset should be something to look forward to.