In Frantz Franco-German relations in the wake of the Great War are explored, but at its heart Ozon has crafted an old-fashioned movie that nevertheless pulses with a modern vitality.
The setup is simple enough, as German war widow Anna (Paula Beer) lays flowers at the grave of her husband Frantz (Anton von Lucke), and meets his French friend Adrien (Pierre Niney). Immediately there is an ambiguity to both the dead man and the Frenchman, which Ozon teasingly plays with, pulling the audience in with different expectations before subverting them.
Such clever storytelling reels the audience into the lives of Frantz’s characters. However, some of the dialogue can become a tad trite, especially with Adrien who can come out with groaner lines like “Frantz is my only wound”. These occasional stumbles do not stop Niney and Beer from selling the hell out of their characters, who both engender profound sympathy. The other performances of note are Frantz’s grieved parents, played by Ernst Stötzner and Marie Grubber.
However, Frantz’s true star is DoP Pascal Marti. The black and white cinematography is gorgeous and could have been ripped from a 1940s melodrama. Yet it’s the gimmick of colour that truly inspires as it can slowly seep into the shots to mark the relief of grief – although its use grows more sophisticated as the story progresses. This technique makes the feelings of the characters both visible and beautiful. These are the most evocative moments in a film that is full of them.
Frantz swings the audience constantly between hope and despair for its characters thanks to a combination of winning performances, clever plotting, and stunning visuals. It’s a pleasure to watch from beginning to end, and in an era of grim cynicism makes one appreciate the value of melodrama.
CAST: Pierre Niney, Marie Gruber, Cyrielle Clair, Paula Beer
DIRECTOR: François Ozon
WRITERS: François Ozon, Philippe Plazzo
SYNOPSIS: In the aftermath of WWI, a young German who grieves the death of her fiancé in France meets a mysterious French man who visits the fiancé’s grave to lay flowers.