Frantz

****

Reviewed by: Anne-Katrin Titze

Frantz
"Frequently and not at all randomly, the film switches to colour, posing a charming riddle that reflects states of happiness or other kinds of intensity."

Frantz touches upon the universal when moments of stark beauty pull up the half-forgotten. The dead return in dreams. We all have experienced the casual horror of such a visit. Lies beget more lies. The crack opens in the familiar map of memory when suddenly we discover a new secret of the dead. The address of a hotel in pre-war Paris can do the trick and here there is no lingering on the discovery.

François Ozon's inspired take on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 post-World War I drama, Broken Lullaby, tells the story of a French soldier, here called Adrien (Pierre Niney of Jalil Lespert's Yves Saint Laurent) who locates the family of a German soldier, Frantz (Anton von Lucke) who died at the front. Still based on the play by Maurice Rostand, Ozon switches perspective to that of the grieving fiancée Anna (Paula Beer), an orphan living with Frantz's parents (Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber).

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The small German town is as picturesque in black and white as if it had actually been built for a Lubitsch musical where Maurice Chevalier could chase Jeanette MacDonald along the cobble-stoned alleys into a cheery inn. The costume design by Ozon regular Pascaline Chavanne (Christophe Honoré's Métamorphoses, Alice Winocour's Disorder and Augustine) is, as usual, not only spot on, but opens the floodgates of memory. The embroidery on Anna's dress or the girls in white at the spring ball engaging in a kind of Teutonic square dance are lovely, edging on bitter-sweet nostalgia. The Great War has ended.

The follow-up is already looming large in the hearts of those trapped in the game that connects nationalist propaganda to personal grief. Proud old men who lost their sons drink their beer in the tavern and spur on their hatred against what they used to call derogatorily "the Franzmann". The film's title is obviously and elegantly playing with the long Franco-German past. The wind in the trees that shelter the graves of the dead in small old cemeteries all over Germany and France is the same. Johann von Bülow plays Anna's suitor Kreutz like Ralph Bellamy with a sinister streak, and Alice de Lencquesaing, as Fanny, with subtle grace lets roaming speculations come full circle.

Not all of Frantz is presented (with cinematography by Pascal Marti) in black and white. Frequently and not at all randomly, the film switches to colour, posing a charming riddle that reflects states of happiness or other kinds of intensity. Although Frantz can perfectly stand alone, two classics loom large and cast their long audio-visual shadows.

The rendition of the Marseillaise competes with the one in Casablanca, whereas Die Wacht Am Rhein sets the tone from the start. A painting by Manet of a pale young man, head back, that hangs in the Louvre triggers a variety of Carlotta moments. Cyrielle Clair as Adrien's mother would be perfectly at home in a lineup of dangerous Hitchcock matriarchs. Vertigo's museum setting has always been the perfect springboard to dive deep into the pool of fantasy, memory, lies, guilt, forgiveness and resurrection.

Which is what Frantz targets, as well as the horrors of a war that sent young men, who had more in common that not, out to kill each other. Instead, they could have been reading Verlaine and Rilke together. Are lies justified when the truth would hurt too much? Does being the keeper of a secret provide a Caspar David Friedrich respite or is it a different kind of loneliness? Anna and Adrien's travels revolve around a corpse, an almost blank slate, that haunts their every act.

Frantz has garnered 11 César nominations - Best Film, Best Director, Pierre Niney for Best Actor, Paula Beer for Best Female Newcomer, Adapted Screenplay François Ozon, Original Score Philippe Rombi, Costume Design Pascaline Chavanne, Production Design Michel Barthélémy, Cinematography Pascal Marti, Best Editing Laure Gardette, and Best Sound Martin Boissau, Benoît Gargonne, Jean-Paul Hurier.. The César awards will be handed out this Friday, February 24 in Paris.

Reviewed on: 23 Feb 2017
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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.
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