FRANTZ, drama, rated PG-13, in French and German with subtitles, Center for Contemporary Arts, 3 chiles
A recent Time magazine cover story asked “Is Truth Dead?” François Ozon’s anti-war movie, set in Germany in the painful immediate aftermath of World War I, approaches the question from a different angle: “Is Truth Necessary?”
Anna (Paula Beer) is a young German woman grieving over the death of her fiancé, Frantz (played in flashbacks by Anton von Lucke), who was killed in action near the end of the Great War. She lives with his parents (Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber), and visits his grave daily to place fresh flowers. One day she finds that someone else has done the same. The mysterious mourner turns out to be Adrien (Pierre Niney, who won a César in the title role of 2014’s Yves Saint Laurent), a blade-thin, sensitive young Frenchman.
The emotional scars of the war are still fresh and painful, and most residents of the small German town, including Frantz’s father, a doctor, want nothing to do with the French. But Anna brings Adrien to the house, and the parents melt at stories of his friendship before the war with their beloved son.
It’s an anti-war movie that acknowledges its debt to a little-seen 1932 film by Ernst Lubitsch, Broken Lullaby. The lens of hindsight allows Ozon to foreshadow the coming world war in a way that was not available to Lubitsch. In a pub scene (there are several), the father delivers a stern rebuke to the patriots (and incipient Nazis) of his drinking crowd when they rail against Adrien and the French, reminding them that they are all responsible for their sons’ deaths: “Who furnished the ammunition and the bayonets, and sent them off to war?”
In Ozon’s film, a secret comes out about midway through, and the rest of the movie wrestles with the issue of concealing various truths from various parties. The initial revelation itself is not hard to anticipate, but the ethics and purpose of its concealment are the seasonings with which the director stirs this pot.
Ozon (8 Women, In the House) shoots mostly in a rich, beautifully lit black-and-white, seeping occasionally into color for flashbacks and for moments when happiness intrudes. He reaches a little too obviously for a balanced construction, with nationalist scenes in German pubs matched with French versions, and Adrien’s reception in Germany is offset with hostile looks Anna receives when she journeys to France. But for the most part this thoughtful film plays smooth as silk, and it is bolstered by fine performances, particularly from the twenty-two-yearold Beer. — Jonathan Richards
A grave affair: Paula Beer and Pierre Niney