DIR/WRI: François Ozon • PRO: Nicolas Altmayer, Stefan Arndt, Uwe Schott • DOP: Pascal Marti • ED: Laure Gardette • DES: Michel Barthélémy • MUS: Philippe Rombi • CAST: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner
The use of monochrome is simplistic in Frantz but never detracts from the tonal ennui that François Ozon captures throughout the film. A tale of reconciliation and bereavement in the aftermath of World War I, its story follows Anna (Paula Beer), a young German woman who loses her fiancé, Frantz, to the war and has since spent her time living with his parents, the Hoffmeisters. Treated as their own daughter, Anna finds a token of solace in their company, but their lives are soon rattled by the appearance of a Frenchman, Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney – Yves Saint Laurent), who claims to be a friend of Frantz. Faced with the hostility of Francophobes, Adrien gradually gains acceptance from the Hoffmeisters, who begin to see aspects of their son in the young man, while Anna soon starts to feel a love for Adrien that makes her both confused and despondent for her dedication to Frantz.
Its story resembles at times something Hitchcockian, but more greatly encapsulates the classic Hollywood stories from the ‘30s and ‘40s. The excellent use of shadows and light, accompanied with the occasional splash of colour, offers up a sensitive, quiet story with easily signalled emotional cues that retain its desired impact to great effect. Emotional is probably the key word in describing Frantz, as it romantically explores the emotive psychology of people affected by the aftermath of war. Realism is of little concern and, without spoiling, the story never thematically calls for an authentic account of grief or PTSD. The little details in the romance make up the significant moments in the overall film, such as Adrien and Anna speaking in French as their own secret language.
While Ozon directs with meticulous attention, his screenplay lacks a solid depth which makes the second act greatly suffer as a result. It’s disappointing, as Frantz delivers a satisfying story that loses all sense of structure or direction for far too long. It relies on a narrative device that seldom captures a sense of urgency or compulsion until the next important plot point peaks into frame. Likewise, while its pacifist themes are well intended, especially during Hans Hoffmeister’s (Ernst Stötzner) speech about who’s responsible for war, it also lacks any depth beyond simplistic axioms. Its themes on war are much better captured in La Grande Illusion (which Ozon nods influence to) or Clint Eastwood’s WWII double-bill of Flags of Our Fathers and Letters from Iwo Jima.
Even after it returns to form near the film’s conclusion, Frantz fails to capture the intrigue and romantic atmosphere that it had beautifully created during its opening scenes. That doesn’t impede what came before as being brilliant dramatic filmmaking at its finest. It’s rare to see a film capture such a uniquely quiet mood that still retains intrigue and charm as well as it’s done here. Both Beer and Niney have a compelling chemistry, with Niney especially possessing a distinctive presence as a leading man. While not quite the masterpiece that it intends to be, Frantz still stands as one of the most touching romances this year so far.
12A (See IFCO for details)
Frantz is released 12th May 2017