Love among en­e­mies

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

Mau­rice Ro­stand (1891-1968) was a French poet, nov­el­ist and drama­tist, and the son of Ed­mond Ro­stand, the au­thor of Cyrano de Berg­erac. In 1925 Ro­stand, who was known as a mem­ber of the Paris gay com­mu­nity, wrote a novel, L’homme que j’ai tue ( The Man I Killed) and five years later he adapted it into a play. The ma­te­rial caught the eye of Ernst Lu­bitsch, a Ber­liner who had moved to Hol­ly­wood and who had be­come cel­e­brated for his “saucy” come­dies that con­tained the sort of sex­ual in­nu­endo that slipped past the cen­sors, and be­came known as “the Lu­bitsch Touch”. In 1932, the same year he made two of his great­est come­dies, One Hour with You and Trou­ble in Par­adise, Lu­bitsch filmed Ro­stand’s book/play for his stu­dio, Para­mount.

It’s not clear just when the ti­tle was changed to the less con­fronting Bro­ken Lul­laby, but Lu­bitsch’s bi­og­ra­pher, Her­man G. Wein­berg, never refers to it by any ti­tle other than the one given by by Ro­stand. By what­ever name, the film was a com­mer­cial flop; it was the height of the De­pres­sion and au­di­ences were weary of war films. It re­mains the least seen of Lu­bitsch’s sound films, though it’s well worth re­dis­cov­er­ing. Now the tal­ented and pro­lific French di­rec­tor Fran­cois Ozon has made a new ver­sion of the story, ti­tled Frantz and, be­fit­ting the pe­riod in which it’s set, he has filmed it mostly in blackand-white, bleed­ing into colour for some of the most emo­tional mo­ments of the drama.

The story un­folds in a small Ger­man town in 1919. Most of the young men who lived here were killed in the bru­tal war in which Ger­many was de­feated, among them Frantz, the son of the lo­cal doc­tor, Hans Hoffmeis­ter (Ernst Stotzner) and his wife Magda (Marie Gru­ber). Frantz was en­gaged to marry Anna (Paula Beer), who has now moved in to live with the be­reaved par­ents. Their cu­rios­ity is sparked when a stranger, and a French­man at that, ar­rives in the town and is seen vis­it­ing Frantz’s grave. He comes to the Hoffmeis­ter house, but the doc­tor sends him away (“Every French­man is my son’s mur­derer”): in fact, no French­man is wel­come in Ger­many with mem­o­ries of the war still so raw. But Anna makes con­tact with the man, Adrien (Pierre Niney), who for­tu­nately speaks Ger­man, and he tells her that he knew Frantz in Paris be­fore the war — in fact, they were close friends who shared an in­ter­est in mu­sic.

The first half of the film sticks closely to Lu­bitsch’s orig­i­nal, though it adds flash­backs show­ing Frantz (An­ton von Lucke); but at about the halfway mark Ozon be­gins to de­vi­ate dra­mat­i­cally from the source ma­te­rial as Anna, en­cour­aged by the Hoffmeis­ters, de­cides to make a trip to Paris to seek out Adrien, who has re­turned there af­ter his visit to Ger­many.

Frantz is one of Ozon’s best films and also one of his most touch­ing. The emo­tion­ally rich story works beau­ti­fully, hinge­ing as it does on mis­un­der­stand­ings and mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tions. The cast, led by the mag­nif­i­cent Beer, give ex­em­plary per­for­mances and while ad­mir­ers of the Lu­bitsch film (sadly there are prob­a­bly not many around) may quib­ble at some of Ozon’s choices, over­all this is a very suc­cess­ful re­work­ing of a cel­e­brated be­tween-wars drama. De­nial also deals with the af­ter­math of war, though in a very dif­fer­ent way. Mick Jack­son’s film cen­tres on a 1998 court case in which Holo­caust de­nier David Irv­ing (Ti­mothy Spall) sued Amer­i­can Jewish au­thor Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt (Rachel Weisz) and her Bri­tish pub­lisher, Pen­guin, over state­ments made in her book Deny­ing the Holo­caust, which was pub­lished in 1993. The film’s screen­play is by the distin­guished play­wright David Hare, and it makes for a grip­ping drama not only as it ex­plores the clash be­tween two pas­sion­ate and driven in­di­vid­u­als but also be­cause of the light it sheds on some of the more cu­ri­ous as­pects of the Bri­tish le­gal sys­tem.

The film be­gins in 1994 when Irv­ing dis­rupts a sem­i­nar be­ing con­ducted by Lip­stadt at a univer­sity in At­lanta and calls her a liar. The sub­se­quent trial takes place in Lon­don, and Lip­stadt’s lawyer, An­thony Julius (An­drew Scott), who tells her proudly that he acted for Princess Diana in her di­vorce, hires as bar­ris­ter Richard Ramp­ton (Tom Wilkin­son). The le­gal team ex­plains that, un­der Bri­tish law, the onus is on the de­fence to prove the al­leged li­bel is true, not the other way round, as it would be in the US.

To Lip­stadt’s an­noy­ance, Ramp­ton re­fuses to al­low her to tes­tify and also ve­toes tes­ti­mony from Holo­caust sur­vivors, fear­ing Irv­ing — who is con­duct­ing his own de­fence — will ha­rass and hu­mil­i­ate them in court. Yet although the ver­dict will be well known to most peo­ple who go to see the film, Hare and Jack­son still man­age to cre­ate sus­pense from this court­room drama. The ex­cel­lent cast de­liv­ers the dra­matic goods and a se­quence in­volv­ing a jour­ney to Auschwitz pro­vides a chill­ing re­minder as to just what the le­gal ar­gu­ments are re­ally about. This doesn’t hap­pen very of­ten, but I’m re­ally not sure what the film Colos­sal is all about; it’s one of the strangest movies I’ve seen, so weird that I kept feel­ing I might be miss­ing some­thing. Maybe I am.

The open­ing scene takes place in a park in Clock­wise from top, Pierre Niney and Paula Beer in Rachel Weisz in and Anne Hath­away in Colos­sal Seoul in 1991; a mother and daugh­ter are hor­ri­fied to see a gi­ant mon­ster, look­ing a bit like Godzilla, loom­ing over the city. Flash for­ward 25 years to a city in Amer­ica and Glo­ria (Anne Hath­away) re­turns home drunk­enly one morn­ing to the apart­ment where she lives with Tim (Dan Stevens), her English boyfriend; it’s not the first time she’s been out par­ty­ing all night and this time Tim throws her out.

She heads for the town where she was born, some­where in the north­west of Amer­ica, where her fam­ily home is con­ve­niently empty, and be­fore long she hooks up with Os­car (Ja­son Sudeikis), an ad­mirer from high school days, who runs a bar and is happy to give her a job.

So far so good; these scenes are coloured by a wel­come grit­ti­ness in which Glo­ria’s lack of re­spon­si­bil­ity and self-es­teem aren’t glossed over — the char­ac­ters all have the ring of truth. Which makes the “gim­mick” even more dis­ap­point­ing; with­out go­ing into too much de­tail, it has to do with Glo­ria’s un­wit­ting re­la­tion­ship to that Korean mon­ster and, yes, the mon­ster is back and busy knock­ing down build­ings in Seoul and killing peo­ple. This is just so silly that it stops the film in its tracks, cre­at­ing a bar­rier from which it never re­cov­ers. I can’t work out the in­ten­tions of Span­ish writer-di­rec­tor Na­cho Vi­ga­londo and how this very cu­ri­ous com­bi­na­tion of real­ism and ab­surd fan­tasy ever went into pro­duc­tion.




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