2017, PG-13, 113 min. Directed by François Ozon. Starring Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber, Anton von Lucke, Johann von Bülow.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., April 7, 2017
It’s 1919, just after World War I, and the wounds haven’t begun healing in Europe yet, especially in the German town of Quedlinburg, where Anna (Beer) tends to the grave of her fiancé, the titular Frantz (von Lucke), killed in the war, although no body lies beneath, lost in the battlefield. When Anna discovers Frenchman Adrien (Niney) at Frantz’s grave laying down flowers, it sparks a mystery, a bittersweet romance, and deception from both parties. However, the mystery at the heart of François Ozon’s period piece is merely a catalyst for the filmmaker to craft an elegant meditation on forgiveness and renewal.
The film sucks you in with its exquisite cinematography (shot in lush black-and-white, with a handful of carefully curated moments in color), and a heavy influence of Thirties and Forties Classic Hollywood filming techniques. But its outward simplicity belies the depths of the themes Ozon is concerned with here. The scars of families who have lost their sons to war, and thereby their legacies. The pervasive resentment that quietly seethes in a country defeated in conflict. And so much more. It is a film that (cue contemporary comparison here) examines nationalism and ideology in subtle and organic ways that unfortunately mirror the world today. These thematic threads are fleshed out with depth and nuance in Niney’s and Beer’s performances (she has a spectacular knack for conveying everything in one, small expression). Using this moment in history, Ozon has made a quietly powerful film whose ultimate message is one of rebirth. The final shot will leave you breathless.