François Ozon’s quiet but stylish drama “Frantz” is an exquisitely made film that dares you to try and define it only to end in a place far more intimate and straightforward than I expected. It cracks open the doors to our imagination and invites us to peep in, get a glimpse and overthink. But ultimately it’s the film’s simplicity that makes it such a touching melodrama.
The story begins in Quedlinburg, Germany, 1919. World War I has just ended. The wounds are still fresh and the effects still reverberate through the town. A young woman named Anna (Paula Beer in a breakout performance) takes flowers to the grave of her fiancé Frantz, a German soldier killed in the war. At the cemetery she witnesses an unknown man leaving flowers on her husband’s grave. His name is Adrien (Pierre Niney) a Frenchman from Paris.
The next day Adrien shows up at the home where Anna lives with Frantz’s parents Hans and Magda Hoffmeister. A grief-stricken and bitter Hans (Ernst Stötzner) kicks him out upon hearing he is French. Anna convinces the Hoffmeister’s to invite Adrien back since he seems to have a connection with Frantz. When Adrien returns he tells them of his close friendship with Frantz. He talks about the time they spent together and the places they went. For Anna and the Hoffmeisters it’s therapeutic and they befriend Adrien much to the dismay of the townsfolk.
But it becomes clear that Adrien isn’t telling them everything. In fact he’s harboring a burdensome secret which is at the heart of why he came to Quedlinburg. Ozon gets in no hurry to reveal it which is one of the film’s strengths. It gives the director room to explore other ideas. Like its inspiration, Ernst Lubitsch’s “Broken Lullaby”, the story has a well handled anti-war subtext as seen in the anti-French sentiment that still permeated much of Town, some of it rooted in xenophobia and some in unbridled grief. But later Ozon holds the same mirror up to the French.
The film eloquently veers back-and-forth between being a suspenseful mystery and an aching love story. Themes of truth, grief, forgiveness, reconciliation, and independence are significant to the plot and given a lot of attention. But then you have Ozon’s subtle riddles and red herrings that would have brought a smile to Hitchcock’s face. It all gives “Frantz” some intriguing and unexpected layers.
Visually “Frantz” is a delight. The use of black-and-white and the occasional shift to color are more than gimmicks. They relay tone and mood from the director but more importantly perspective from the characters. It’s a tricky yet perfect fit for this moving period story. Some may be encouraged to offer more speculation than interpretation. The story opens itself up for that. But for me the best interpretation of “Frantz” is the simplest and most straightforward. It puts Anna in the spotlight which for me made the film more poignant and emotionally satisfying.
VERDICT – 4.5 STARS