Out Now On-Demand
French art-house helmer François Ozon (In The House) directs Paula Beer and Pierre Niney in a remake of Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 WWI drama, Broken Lullaby.
"Spying a stranger laying a bouquet of roses on her beloved fiancé's grave one day, the quietly grieving Anna (Beer) is both surprised and intrigued. The war has just ended. Anna was engaged to Frantz, who was killed, and the people in her German home town are just beginning to emerge from the shadow of horrendous conflict. Frantz's parents are shattered over their son's death.
"Tentatively, the stranger reveals his identity: he is French, and with the war so raw in everyone's minds, he is clearly not welcome in this small community. Yet it emerges that Adrien (Niney) knew Frantz in the pre-war period, when the two of them became fast friends over their shared love of art and, in particular, music. Anna, along with Frantz's parents, eventually warms to this sensitive Frenchman, who simply wanted to visit the gravesite of his dead friend. But this is only the beginning of a story whose twists and turns take us down emotionally haunting avenues." (Toronto International Film Festival)
Winner of the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actress (Beer), 2016 Venice Film Festival.
Drama, War, Historical, Festival & Independent
Rating: PG Violence
French and German with English subtitles
Love, loss, and war. It’d take you less than a minute of googling to find five masterful films that already cover those themes. It’s much harder to find a new film that can spin those ideas into a different ball of yarn. This is where Frantz surprises; it takes a seemingly standard post-war story and twists expectations – slightly but frequently – in order to find a fresh truth about what war, love and loss do to us.
The film follows Anna (Paula Beer) as she silently mourns the loss of her fiancé Frantz alongside her in-laws. Their hometown in Germany celebrates the end of The Great War, but under a cold shadow of grief cast by the people they’ve lost. When French stranger Adrien (Pierre Niney), considered an enemy on the battlefield, visits Frantz’s grave and explains their friendship to Anna, it knocks down the first domino to an emotionally complex line of thoughts and feelings.
Beer’s portrayal of Anna’s personalised grief is effortlessly on point. She is restrained, cautious, and stern in her emotional response to this tragedy, but that internalising stacks those feelings like a house of cards waiting for a whisper of wind to carry them away. That gust is Adrien, a man who’s clearly hiding something but is so nakedly saddened by Frantz’s death that you can’t deny his humanity.
The constantly gorgeous black-and-white photography amplifies small details, from the light that catches the stone cobble of the streets to the subtle way it emboldens Niney’s sorrowful eyes. Unfortunately, it’s interrupted by the film’s occasional use of colour. Though there’s a thematic decision behind this, the effect isn’t utilised all that much and comes off more distracting than poignant. Fortunately, this is the only fumble in an otherwise sturdy, stirring drama.
The Guardian (UK)
Los Angeles Times
New York Times
A beautifully filmed essay about guilt, lies and loss in the between-wars era
Nations reconcile after war but it is only people who can grant forgiveness. For many, it is an impossible grant that leaves wounds unhealed. This theme dominates the Franco-German film Frantz (2017), a psychological drama about a former soldier’s personal quest for forgiveness. Filmed mostly in black and white, it is a poetically beautiful essay about guilt, lies, and tragic loss, set in the between-wars era.
The storyline is shaped by deep grief and national hatreds. In a small German village, Anna (Paula Beer) is grieving the death of her fiancé Frantz who was killed fighting in France. She visits his gravesite daily and one day finds that someone else has left flowers on the grave. A few days later she finds a stranger standing solemnly at the headstone and introduces herself to a brooding Frenchman called Adrien (Pierre Niney). They are soon in conversation and Anna is shocked to hear that Adrien had spent time with Frantz in Paris, sharing a love of music, art, and good times. Anna introduces Adrien to Frantz’s parents who bitterly blame all French people for their son’s death. As the parents hear Adrien share his grief and his memories of Frantz, a bond begins to form between all of them, at first reluctantly then warmly. But the mysterious Adrien is harbouring a tragic secret. Eventually he breaks down and confesses to Anna with whom a romantic attachment has developed. She immediately shuns him and he returns to Paris. Time elapses and she cannot forget him. Urged by the parents, she goes to Paris to find Adrien where she must confront a new loss and learn about forgiveness.
For audiences expecting an action-driven narrative, there little on offer in this film. The story moves forward in sombre but exquisite monochrome and often tense dialogue that is punctuated by a few scenes in colour as respite from melancholy. The performances of its four main roles are laden with emotion but stops short of melodrama. The principals Paula Beer and Pierre Niney give finely nuanced performances evoking the behavioural norms of the era. All performances are high-wire acts of emotion and dramatic tension: the pain on the parent’s faces when they hear stories of their son is palpable and the tense suppression of Adrien’s dark secret is electric. Anna’s struggle between her loyalty to the cherished memory of Frantz and the possibility of new love is mirrored in the Franco-German struggles with blame, guilt, grief, and hope. As the relationship between Anna and Adrien strengthens there are several lyrical scenes of languid days enjoyed at the side of a pond that are composed like painting masterpieces and emblematic of the artistry brought to the making of this film.
Frantz is multi-layered with intense emotion that is explored at the personal and national levels. Truth is always the first victim of war and where truth fails, lies, promises and secrets take over. Frantz can rightly be described as an arthouse feminist film. By taking Anna’s viewpoint it encompasses universal themes of agency over victimhood that empower her to move on in her life.