François Ozon’s Frantz takes you on a haunting journey into the unexpected ramifications of grief, forgiveness and identity in the European aftermath of World War I.
Strange Meetingby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
In a small German town in 1919, a young woman walks across the square to the cemetery to put flowers on her fiancé’s grave. Since the end of the 1914-18 war, this is her routine – until one day, in a town so small and traditional that no new arrival passes unnoticed, she sees a stranger at the grave.
François Ozon’s Frantz is a departure from what we have come to expect from him. It’s his first film in German – though with some French – and it’s mainly in black and white. It’s about grief, love, forgiveness, truth, lies and the unexpected. The young woman is Anna (a luminous performance from Paula Beer). Her fiancé was Frantz, the beloved, talented and pacifist son of his grief-wracked parents, the local doctor (Ernst Stötzner as a bearded paterfamilias) and his motherly wife (Marie Gruber). He died in battle enlisted as a soldier in the German army. The arrival of the young stranger causes consternation – he turns out to be French and says he knew Frantz when he was a student in Paris. Played by Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent), Adrien is sensitive, courteous, yet also wrestling with with some kind of grief himself. Initially hostile to him because of his nationality, the fact that he also served as a soldier in the war, and the blame they attach to him because of it, Frantz’s parents start to find comfort for their all-encompassing grief in the affectionate stories he tells them of his friendship with their son, their violin lessons and visits to the Louvre. He and Anna seem drawn to each other through their memories of Frantz. In moments of joy, intensity or memory the film fades from black and white into enlivening colour.
But the film is set in the aftermath of World War I. Franco-German relations are still in a state of flux. The small town reverberates with German nationalist hostility to the French left over from the war and we see similar nationalistic scenes in France. An intense relationship apparently seems to form between Anna and Adrien but, this being Ozon, the film does not continue in a conventional trajectory. It becomes Anna’s story of self-discovery and will to live. It’s haunting.
Frantz premiered at the Cannes Film Festival 2016 and is released on 12 May 2017 in the UK.