April 12, 2017 at 8:03 a.m.
Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner, Marie Gruber, Johann von Buelow, Anton von Lucke, Cyrielle Clair, Alice de Lenquesaing
Directed by François Ozon
In 1930 Maurice Rostand wrote a play about a French soldier who was haunted by the memory of a dead German soldier just after WWI. Two years later acclaimed director Ernst Lubitsch adapted the dramatic play for the film “Broken Lullaby” starring Lionel Barrymore and Nancy Carroll. It marked a change in direction for the filmmaker known for his witty comedies. “Frantz” is a partial remake of the Lubitsch film by French director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, In the House) with a new twist to the expanded storyline by Ozon and co-writer Philippe Piazzo. The haunting film shot mostly in black and white features superb performances by Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent) and 22-year old German actress Paula Beer.
The film opens in 1919, just after WWI, in Quedlingburg, Germany, a small medieval town located just north of the Harz mountains. Like many of the town’s residents whose sons were killed in the war, Dr. Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber) are in mourning. Their son Frantz (Anton Von Lucke) was killed in the trenches on the front line.
In a breakthrough performance, Paula Beer plays Annna, perhaps the most complex character in the film. She was engaged to Frantz and now resides with the Hoffmeisters who treat her like their daughter. She gives them the strength to keep on living by reminding them of their son. The three have a tight bond and now that enough time has passed since the death of Frantz, the Hoffmeisters are eager to see Anna move forward so they drop hints that maybe she should begin dating one of the town’s eligible bachelors. Anna on the other hand shows no interest in any other men. It’s evident by her daily visits to the cemetery that she is still grieving Frantz.
One day a mysterious Frenchmen named Adrien (Pierre Niney) arrives to lay flowers at Frantz’s tombstone. Anna eventually confronts the young veteran who claims to have known Frantz before the war. He informs Anna that they were friends with similar interests, both are classical musicians with a love of art especially Édouard Manet's "The Suicide,” a painting they encountered while touring the Louvre. At first Anna is perplexed by Adrien’s claim since Frantz never spoke about him so he gives her something that belonged to Frantz to support his story.
Imagine losing a loved one and then meeting a stranger who can share memories of that person. You would become a sponge soaking up as much information as possible just as Anna does in the film. She introduces Adrien to the Hoffmeisters and they too fall under his spell when he begins to recount the time he spent with Frantz in Paris. They ask him to play Frantz’s violin and he becomes very emotional.
Writer-director Ozon crafts a mystery that engrosses the audience as they attempt to put the pieces of the puzzle together. Eventually a hidden truth is revealed to Anna and this where Lubitsch’s 1932 film would naturally end but Ozon adds an original second chapter to the narrative that takes these complex characters in a new direction. The film works magnificently thanks to the actors strong performances. 22-year old Paula Beer won the Best Young Actress award at last year’s Venice International Film Festival, and there are shades of a mature Molly Ringwald in her appearance. Her co-star Pierre Niney is a dashing French actor who resembles a young Adrien Brody. He took home the coveted César Award for Best Actor in 2015 for playing fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.
If you’ve seen any of Ozon’s films like “The New Girlfriend” or “Swimming Pool” you’ve noticed that the director likes to work with vibrant colors so “Frantz” marks a change of pace for Ozon since most the film is in black and white. There are splashes of color that fade into the film to signify moments of happiness and in one particular scene, an ode to German painter Caspar David Friedrich.
“Frantz” captivates the audience with superb performances, a haunting storyline, and an exquisite presentation.
(3 ½ stars)
Now playing in Austin at the Violet Crown Cinema and Regal Arbor 8
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