Postwar Playfulness: Francois Ozon’s Frantz (2016) – Blu-ray review
Will the real François Ozon please stand up? The simplicity of Frantz’s story hides an astonishing tonal, emotional and formal range.
(François Ozon, 2016)
You never know what you’re going to get from a film by the prolific, versatile François Ozon… which is quite handy when it comes to Frantz, a film built around the lies we tell others, and ourselves. Built around the chassis of a 1932 Ernst Lubitsch melodrama, Broken Lullaby, it’s a film that looks like a bleak, austere drama but is achingly romantic.
It’s set in Germany in the aftermath of World War One, a place that has the icy, grey formalism of Michael Haneke’s The White Ribbon. Here, a nation grieves for its fallen soldiers and harbours nationalistic resentment against France for defeating it. But the arrival of Adrien (Pierre Niney), a Frenchman come to pay his respects to his late friend, Frantz Hoffmeister, softens the attitudes of the dead man’s family, and especially his fiancée Anna (Paula Beer), who is smitten by the stranger.
The film is equally smitten, as Adrien’s memories of Frantz bring vivid colour to the Hoffmeisters’ lives. Literally so: Anna steps out of her monochrome grief into an idyllic landscape, in an unbroken shot that gradually flushes with colour – a masterclass in using modern technology to achieve a swooning, old-fashioned high. Yet the technical trickery is also a smart piece of Brechtian foreshadowing, for Adrien isn’t exactly what he seems.
Ozon has always been a genre chameleon, and here gets to hide films within films. As Anna decides to start telling lies herself, Frantz becomes an ironic vision of the benefits of fantasy over harsh reality, but it’s also a sincere story of forgiveness, and how goodwill depends on being selective with the facts. This is all disguised as a period detective story with something of the feel of Vertigo, down to the Hermann-esque score, but it also has the cadences of a good weepie, aided by the lustrous filming of the soulful, wide-eyed central couple.
It’s also a piercing, sad and wise view of the horrible effects of war and the corrosive effect of patriotism. Early on, Ozon tips his hat to the rise of Nazism by showing a meeting of beer-swilling townsfolk, burning with rage and planning a return to German glory. Yet a later scene in Paris flips this on its head as Anna is trapped in a spontaneous café recital of La Marseillaise. In Casablanca, the same scenario is a cause for heart-swelling pride – but here, it’s just as insidious, creepy and uncomfortable as any other nation’s xenophobia.
Frantz is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 10 July.
Tagged French Cinema