BFI London Film Festival: Frantz


Directed by François Ozon
Starring Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber
LFF Screening October 7th, 8th, 2016

by Joanna Orland

François Ozon’s latest film is a departure for the prolific French director.  Frantz is set in the aftermath of World War I, filmed predominantly in German and presented largely in black and white, using colour sparingly and purposefully.  Anna is mourning the loss of her fiancé Frantz until one day she discovers a mysterious visitor who has been calling at his grave.  This visitor turns out to be Adrien, a Frenchman who claims to have been a good friend of Frantz during the fallen soldier’s prewar stay in Paris.  Adrien pays a visit to Frantz’s mourning parents, the Hoffmeisters, who have taken in Anna as their own daughter.  He tells them of his days with Frantz, clearly spinning lies which bring them reprieve from their mourning.

Tensions are high in this small German town as residents resent the presence of a Frenchman – the sworn enemy of the Germans during the war.  But the Hoffmeisters and Anna take in Adrien as though he is replacing Frantz himself.  Putting nationalist tensions aside, using Adrien a surrogate for their son helps in their grief more than using him as the focus of their anger.  And so the lie builds, but is a lie harmful when only pain can come from the truth?

The director’s typical use of subtle humour is absent from this film, but instead the use of melodrama takes its place.  Using colour and music to emphasize grief and hope, the film is overt in its message, but subtle in its performances.  A loose remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, Ozon focuses on the female perspective of Anna and her grief rather than Adrien and his guilt.  He’s also reworked the second half of the narrative which sees Anna traveling to France in search of Adrien.  What unfolds is a bit of a typical Ozon twist, and without the melodramatic scene at the end, this would have all been more affective.

A potent piece about loss, grief and guilt, Frantz is a beautiful period film that sometimes errs on the side of melodrama rather than sentiment.


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