Frantz (2016)

May 6th, 2017
Author: Meredith Taylor

Director: François Ozon

Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Buelow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lenquesaing

Drama | France | 112min

With the theme of guilt firmly at the forefront, François Ozon takes his inspiration from Ernst Lubitsch’s ‘Broken Lullaby,’ in his first black and white film – a gloriously imagined postwar drama that flips fluidly from French to German.

The First World War changed everything – not only from a political point of view but also from a societal one. European countries were left reeling from the devastation but Ozon focuses here on the bitterness and remorse ordinary people felt at losing their dear ones to the war effort and the enemy, both from the German and French perspective.

After a lightweight dramady The New Girlfriend, Ozon is back on form with this lusciously filmed magnificently mounted masterpiece that takes place in the immediate aftermath to the Great War in a small village in rural Saxony (with echoes of Haneke’s The White Ribbon) and slowly builds to a powerful bodyblow in its emotive final scenes set in Paris and provincial France before returned to Germany. Basing his premise on a series of blatant lies, albeit white ones, the inventive French filmmaker tells a story of guilt and loss – where a young man (Pierre Niney plays Adrien) is driven to protect an old couple (the Hoffmeisters) and their daughter-in-law Anna (Paula Beer), in order to assuage his own actions in the trenches of Verdun, where Anna lost her lover in the slaughter that wiped out thousands and divided Europe in a way that many of our own relatives can still remember (beware Brexit!).

Paula Beer radiates a tragic sadness here as the complex heroine who gradually falls for Pierre Ninney’s fragile yet hopelessly handsome French soldier who manages to conceal his secret for most of the film, spinning her tortuously into a spiral of mixed emotions ranging from longing to anger, hatred and gradually, love and acceptance.

Ozon’s cinematographer Pascal Marti crafts velvety images 35mm in black-and-white. His regular composer Philippe Rombi crafts a atmospheric soundtrack of orchestral splendour that seems to continually presage doom in judiciously chosen moments, and there is an enchanting scene in Adrien’s family chateau where an impromptu piano and violin recital takes place between Anna, Adrien and Fanny (du Lenquesaing). Ozon’s theme of art as a potential healer and inspirer once again appears with Manet’s painting Le Suicide representing a potent motif. This is an accomplished and immersive period drama that will resonate with arthouse audiences and is certainly Ozon’s most mature and accomplished film so far. MT



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