François Ozon's beautifully crafted, sorrowful drama unfolds in the aftermath of World War I
The prolific, versatile François Ozon breaks fresh ground with Frantz, a touching, beautifully crafted tale set in the aftermath of World War I. Inspired by Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 film Broken Lullaby, it sensitively explores personal tragedies that reflect the bigger picture of a shattered Europe.
In a small German town, Anna (Paula Beer) mourns her fiancé Frantz who was killed in combat. One day, she catches sight of someone leaving flowers at Frantz's grave. He is Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney) who claims to have been a friend of her beloved. Sorrow draws the two survivors closer together and the charming, well-mannered Adrien is eventually embraced as a comforting presence by Frantz's parents. Other members of the community are more hostile to the former enemy in their midst, and the film subtly conveys the legacy of war in attitudes and resentments that would shape the entire 20th century.
Largely filmed in gorgeous black and white, with key sequences in colour, there is a delicacy and restraint to Frantz that extends from the understated performances to the impeccable art direction and the sombre mood. The growing tenderness between Anna and Adrien is entirely convincing, but Ozon constantly hints that there is more to Adrien than meets the eye. On the basis of the director's past work, you almost expect Adrien to have been Frantz's lover and yet the film moves in more unexpected directions.
Renowned for bringing out the best in his actors, Ozon is especially well-served by Beer, who conveys a sense of Anna as an intelligent woman, gradually growing in strength as she emerges from the clouds of grief to gain a clearer understanding of her own worth and future. Her performance is just one of the many impressive elements in a mournful but deeply felt film.
Selected release from Fri 12 May.