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Frantz (A Movie Review)

Updated: Mar 20, 2020


FRANTZ (2016)

Starring Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber, Johann Von Bülow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lencquesaing, Axel Wandtke, Rainer Egger, Rainer Silberschneider, Merlin Rose, Ralf Dittrich, Michael Witte, Lutz Blochberger, Jeanne Ferron, Torsten Michaelis, Étienne Ménard and Claire Martin.

Screenplay by François Ozon in collaboration with Philippe Piazzo.

Directed by François Ozon.

Distributed by Music Box Films. 113 minutes. Rated PG-13.

French director François Ozon has become one of the most unpredictable and intriguingly personal filmmakers in his homeland with films like 8 Women, Swimming Pool and The New Girlfriend. However, one thing he had never tried was a film remake.

Frantz is loosely based upon a little-known film (and a rare drama) in the filmography of classic German comedy director Ernst Lubitsch called Broken Lullaby, which came out in 1932. It takes some serious stones to take on the work of Lubitsch, even an obscure title such as this. However, in the current nationalistic world order, the story is still relevant.

The movie takes place soon after the end of World War I, starting in a German village and then moving to France. Despite the war ending, there is still a deep bitterness on each side towards the other.

In Lubitsch’s original film the director started to build some healing in this rift between cultures. The new film looks at the split more pragmatically and more bleakly, because of course history tells us now that when the original film was released, the seeds of World War II were already being sown.

The title character is a German soldier who was killed during World War I. (He is only seen here in flashbacks and fantasy sequences.) He is survived by bereft parents and a beautiful fiancée Anna, who live together, clinging to each other for comfort. On her regular visits to Frantz’s grave, she notices a French stranger is also coming to see the plot.

The next day the man tries to speak with the father, who is the town doctor. The doctor rejects him out of hand because he is French, and all of the French are responsible for his son’s death. The mother and Anna are upset he didn’t talk with the stranger, assuming he was a friend of Frantz’s from his student years in Paris.

Anna delivers a message to the Frenchman’s hotel that the doctor was willing to speak with him and he should come to dinner. The Frenchman is also in mourning of Frantz’s death, and soon he is regaling the family with stories of violin lessons and afternoons spent at the Louvre.

The doctor, wife and Anna find themselves finally healing, seeing their loved one through this newcomer’s eyes. Unfortunately, the town is aghast that they are not only talking to a Frenchman – the enemy – but actually befriending him. Then, eventually it comes out the stranger’s relationship with Frantz was not what he has led the family to believe.

This was pretty much where the original film ended, but Ozon adds an entire second act to the story, extending it an hour and moving the story to France.

I won’t go into many details of these things, because Frantz’s twists and turns are an important part of its success (though I think most audience members will pick up on the stranger’s relationship with Frantz long before the family does).

Frantz is filmed in moody black and white, until the slightly ambiguous final scene, which slowly morphs into color. (Is it a dream sequence? Does the scene mean what it appears to, despite the fact that some previous scenes seem to argue against this potential destination? Or is it simply an accident of chance?)

While Frantz is far from Ozon’s best work, it does work fairly well and is an intriguing choice from a filmmaker who is not afraid to take risks.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2017 All rights reserved. Posted: March 31, 2017.

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