Romantic post-war drama “Frantz” filled with twists and turns
Set immediately after World War I, French director François Ozon’s film examines fractured relationships between nations through the lens of a young German woman named Anna, her fiancé Frantz who dies in the war and a French man named Adrien who mysteriously shows up in town. The film flips back and forth between present day, memories of Frantz and flashbacks to the war. “Frantz” begins as a story about love lost and betrayal but slowly evolves into a film about new beginnings, forbidden love and moving beyond prejudice.
The film opens up with Anna, played by German actress Paula Beer, meandering through town and buying a bouquet of white flowers to place on Frantz’s grave. As Anna approaches the grave, she notices that someone has already left flowers there and she asks the gravedigger if he saw who did it. He says “the foreigner,” and Anna ponders this on her way back home, where she lives with her in-laws. The three of them lead a quiet, mournful existence and battle with guilt and self-hatred.
The next day, Anna visits the grave again and sees a tall, mustached stranger by the grave played by French actor Pierre Niney. She confronts him and it turns out that this stranger is actually a Frenchman named Adrien who claims to have been friends with Frantz before the war.
At first, Anna’s father-in-law is cold towards Adrien because of his prejudice toward the French for killing his only son. But he quickly warms up to Adrien after learning that he is musically gifted and can play the violin, just like Frantz could. Shortly after this discovery, Frantz plays the violin while Anna plays the piano and this duet is one of the film’s few colorful scenes. The chemistry between them is palpable.
Anna and her in-laws ask Adrien to tell them about his experiences with Frantz, and Adrien shares the heartwarming story of the last time he saw their son. They went to the Louvre together, and Frantz was drawn to a painting of a pale young man which we later learn is Edouard Manet’s “Le Suicidé.”
Ozon is a master of suspense and plot twists, and after meeting Adrien it becomes clear that there is more to the story than meets the eye. I thought perhaps Adrien and Frantz were lovers, or that Adrien knew who killed Frantz or maybe that Adrien never knew Frantz at all. Ozon has a gift of making the viewer think they know where things are going and then completely throwing you for a loop. The heartbreaking truth isn’t revealed until over halfway through the movie.
The film is almost entirely in black and white, lending it a somber and melancholy quality, with some of the most moving scenes done in color for emphasis. Although this effect can sometimes be cheesy, it had the intended effect and made the film feel much more like a period piece. The only issue I had with the film was the slow pacing, but the constant twists made up for how drawn out the film felt despite only being 113 minutes.
Frantz opens in theaters, April 4, 2017.
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