Love among enemies
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.
IS ONE OF OZON’S BEST FILMS AND ALSO ONE OF HIS MOST TOUCHING