By Tess Paul
No stranger to lengthy meditations on interpersonal relationships, François Ozon (of the prestigious French film school La Fémis) directs another stunning reverie with Frantz.
The film begins with Anna (Paula Beer), a young German woman who mourns her fiancé Frantz, recently killed in action while fighting the French in WWI. Anna leads us into her world of mourning early, where we discover she has abandoned her studies and taken to living with her late fiancé’s parents at their home in a small German town. After purchasing flowers for Frantz’s grave, she finds a fresh bouquet already beneath the cross—left by a French man.
Anna goes back home to Frantz’s mother and tells her the strange news. Anna’s mother-in-law tells her to keep it secret from Frantz’s father, but the Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) eventually comes to visit him in his office, bringing with him the prejudice and tensions of the war. Though initially ordered out of the house by Frantz’s father, the family comes to love the foreign soldier, almost as a placeholder for their son. Adrien, however, is tormented by a secret he is sure will destroy his connection with Frantz’s family forever.
Many of Ozon’s previous films, including In The House (2012) and Young and Beautiful (2013), center around lonely protagonists—young adults who feel disconnected from their lives. Frantz expands this idea beyond the individual to the loneliest scenario imaginable: two countries seeped in grief, mourning the loss of their loved ones.
Coloured mostly in black and white, Frantz opens with pink blossoms then cuts rapidly to Anna in greyscale. The coloured scenes return sparingly in moments of connection, joy, and extreme loss. The characters around Anna all encourage her to move on with her life, often telling her to smile. Their advice only serves to draw her deeper into her grief, and we understand the film’s lack of colour to be associated with Anna’s lack of lust for life.
Both Anna and Adrien experience prejudice in their respective foreign countries, and both bear self-destructive secrets they know will burden their recipients. Switching from German to French, Frantz truly becomes a film of empathy—by choosing not to side with one country or language the film suggests war itself is the ultimate enemy.
Frantz is a true testament to restrained cinematic style as motivated by the story. While the film feels quite classic in its cinematography and editing styles, the larger themes and motifs are complex and engaging. As if floating beneath the surface, these concepts are grounded in exceptionally subtle performances by Paula Beer and Pierre Niney. Ozon has a knack for discovering captivating young actors, and these two are no exception. With each quiver of the lip and stolen glance we can lose ourselves in a story of forbidden young love, framed by grief which resonates long after the tragedy of battle.
Frantz is showing April 21-23 at the Rio Theatre.Rio Theatre