2017 Berlin and Beyond Film Festival, San Francisco

Frantz (2016) is a historical drama directed by François Ozon [Swimming Pool, 2003)] who collaborated on the scenario with Philippe Piazzo. They adapted the film from Broken Lullaby (1932) directed by Ernst Lubitsch,

Frantz begins in 1919 Germany in the wake of World War I. There’s an Armistice but ill feeling between Germans and French still remain. A young woman dressed in black walks through city streets. A marching band plays and children frolic in time to the music. Things become subdued when she reaches her destination, the cemetery. When she comes to the grave she intended to visit, someone has placed flowers on it. When she asks the gravedigger who left them, he shows her a French coin and spits.

Frenchman or not, Anna (Paula Beer) is determined to learn who the donor is. The grave is that of her fiancé Frantz, killed fighting in the war. Staking out the graveyard, she eventually discovers his identity.

He’s Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney), a Frenchman who claims to have befriended Frantz (Anton von Lucke) in Paris before the war. Seen in flashback, he weaves a heartfelt and convincing tale of an idyllic Paris. It was a world filled with colors bathed in sunlight, of concerts and museums where the two friends shared their passion for music and art.

Thin and sensitive looking, the soft-spoken Adrien also charms the Hoffmeisters, the parents of Frantz who bequeath him their son’s precious violin. There’s fervent anti-French nationalism in the town but Frantz’s mother (Marie Gruber) and physician father (Ernst Stötzner) accept the Frenchman as almost a long-lost son. This doesn’t sit well with some of the nationalists, especially Kreutz (Johann von Bülow), who hasn’t accepted Germany’s defeat. Even worse, he sees Adrien as a rival for Anna’s affections.

One doesn’t need be a romantic rival to know Adrien is hiding something. What was the nature of his relationship with Frantz and why has he really come to Quedlinburg?

Filmed by Pascal Marti in both color and black-and-white, the Europe of the 19th Century is beautifully rendered. Susanne Abel’s art direction and the costumes by Pascaline Chavanne are also effective in recreating the period. Laure Gardette edited the film.

Opens March 24 2017

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