Boston Herald

Life, death, romance emerge from darkness

- By JAMES VERNIERE — james.verniere@bostonhera­

An intoxicati­ng, romantic hothouse flower from uneven French auteur Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool”), “Frantz” is the director’s finest effort.

Based on Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 romance “Broken Lullaby,” “Frantz” tells the story of a young French World War I soldier who kills a German named Frantz, a sensitive, young man who might have been the Frenchman’s friend in civilian life, and then goes to Germany to seek the forgivenes­s of Frantz’s family and fiancee. With exquisite irony, the Frenchman even becomes romantical­ly entangled with Frantz’s grieving near-widow.

The film, which is in black-and-white with occasional expressive splashes of color, begins with the arrival of Adrien Rivoire (a nervous, whippet-thin Pierre Niney) in Frantz’s German village of Quedlinbur­g. The scars of World War I, which Dr. Hans Hoffmeiste­r (Ernst Stotzner in the role played by Lionel Barrymore in the original), Frantz’s heartbroke­n father, treats in his office, are still fresh and painful.

Seen by Frantz’s cladinfian­cee, Anna (Paula Beer), in the village cemetery visiting Frantz’s grave and leaving roses (cemeteries play a large role in this film’s morbid romantic triangle), Adrien also attracts the interest of Kreutz (Johann von Bulow), a proto-Nazi veteran, who desperatel­y wants to marry Anna, although she rightly spurns the brute. Adrien, who is a violinist with the Orchestre de Paris, allows Frantz’s parents, Hans and Magda (Marie Gruber, “The Lives of Others”), to believe that he was Frantz’s friend when they both attended a conservato­ry in Paris before the war.

On the way to the cemetery, Anna stops before a dress shop window. The Hoffmeiste­rs encourage her to attend a village ball. She has refused to go with Kreutz. Do you have any doubt she will end up at the ball with her fiance’s killer and that they will fall in love? Romance may be even stranger than you think in “Frantz,” and the film casts a dark spell. We hear both “Le Marseillai­se” and “Die Wacht am Rhein.”

In a letter to Anna, Frantz (Anton von Lucke in flashbacks) speaks of a “sea of corpses.” Like a tolling bell, the film repeatedly acknowledg­es the war dead and how their sacrifice places a responsibi­lity upon survivors to go on living. Hans and Adrien handle Frantz’s violin as if it were dead Frantz himself, lovingly covering it with a cloth and laying it in its case.

Niney and Beer are spellbindi­ng as two damaged souls seeking refuge from the recent horrors.

In one scene, cinematogr­apher Pascal Marti turns the mountainou­s Saxony woods into a landscape painting. Another painting, a grim portrait by Edouard Manet, also plays a role.

Seldom has a film woven romance, death, art, family and nature into such a rich, if not exactly joyous tapestry. Among the other snatches of music are Frederic Chopin, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Claude Debussy. “Frantz” is a sea of feeling. Dive in.

(“Frantz” contains powerfully moving scenes and war violence.)

 ??  ?? UNLIKELY COUPLE: Adrien (Pierre Niney) and Anna (Paula Beer) seek refuge from the horrors of war in each other's company in `Frantz.'
UNLIKELY COUPLE: Adrien (Pierre Niney) and Anna (Paula Beer) seek refuge from the horrors of war in each other's company in `Frantz.'

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States