Starring: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Bülow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lencquesaing.
Director: François Ozon
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic elements including brief war violence.)
Running Time: 113 Minutes
Release Date: March 15, 2017
Mandarin Production, X-Filme Creative Pool, FOZ, Mars Films, France 2 Cinema, Films Distribution and Music Box FIlms.
Written by: François Ozon and Philippe Piazzo, adapted from the film “Broken Lullaby”, written and directed by Ernst Lubitsch.
Emotionally reeling from the news that her fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke) has died in World War I, a grieving German woman, Anna (Paula Beer), brings flowers to his grave each day. One morning, she is surprised to find a young man doing the same, overcome with emotions.
Seeing him again, Anna sets out to learn more about this man and he introduces himself as Adrien (Pierre Niney), who shares he was close friends with Frantz before the war. Anna recoils initially, but he is kind, sensitive, grieving, and with Frantz’s family still distraught themselves, Anna decides to bring Adrien buy as a means to help ease their communal pain.
Set in the dusk of World War I, tensions between France and Germany are understandably high at the time Frantz takes place. This taut and palpable anger and sorrow is felt first-hand by Frantz’s family, the Hoffmeisters (Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber), who initially bristle at the notion of a strange man visiting their son’s grave. The kindly couple view Anna as family, and when she expresses curiosity over learning who this man is, Frantz’s mother Magda warms to the idea far sooner than her husband Hans does.
For the film’s opening hour, Frantz plays like a chess match of sorts and co-writer and director François Ozon crafts a nimble mystery on the connections both made and not made. Part of the intrigue comes in watching Adrien and Anna circle around each other in a number of different settings, dipping toes into metaphorical waters with every conversation. Somewhat understandably, the Hoffmeisters agree to accept Adrien’s visits more and more, largely because of their love and trust for Anna. In an unexpected way, Adrien becomes something of a surrogate for their deceased son, a conduit to the moments the two men shared as friends.
And then, as one might expect, Frantz shifts and we see this story go in a completely different direction.
Ozon often digs deep into his characters, pulling out depth and complexity, and melodramatic tendencies, which serves as a common trait among all of his filmography. Eventually, Frantz shifts the perspective from one domicile to another and anchoring the film impressively is the breakout turn from 22-year-old actress Paula Beer. She gives one of 2017’s finest performances, which, had the film arrived later in in the year, would be talked about as a potential awards contender. The range of emotions Beer must go through is immense and she is virtually in every scene. Her ability to pivot, react, and push the film forward, while imbibing us with an understanding of why she loved Frantz, even when he is not on screen, is a staggering achievement in projecting vulnerable and strength.
Ozon implements a black-and-white aesthetic with flashbacks occurring in color, adding to the overall intrigue and symbolism of living in a depressed present and dreaming and remembering a happier and more bountiful past. The cinematography by Pascal Merti is stunning in both schemes and the synergy between costuming and production design lends to an authenticity a film like this needs to work effectively.
Ozon’s film does run out of steam in the last act, largely because we simply have run out of places to go when a somewhat predictable event brings us to a story conclusion, with running time left to spare. If the film falls flat by the end, Frantz still takes us on a mesmerizing journey that makes us consider our interpersonal connections and where our threshold for acceptance may reside. The film also speaks to the conflict of war and realities often ignored or discarded when soldiers must confront their fears and perceived enemies directly one-on-one.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Fans of Francois Ozon will be thrilled to see one of our most prolific filmmakers return with a pretty terrific emotional drama, with the emergence of a potential new star on the rise in Paula Beer.
- Sumptuously shot and detailed, Frantz is a movie that becomes very easy to fall into and become consumed by.
- If you are at all familiar with Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, you will be pretty thrilled that Ozon braved to remake it, acknowledging that the remake consumes essentially the first half.
- Moves at something of a measured gait, which might prove to be too slow for some viewers.
- Some feel that one particular character gets a pass for actions and behaviors they may not have earned. Depending on where your connections fall, this could prove to be a deal-breaker for some viewers.
- In French and German, largely black-and-white, with a little ambiguity and misdirection thrown in along the way. This might just prove to be too much for some viewers to follow and process.