Frantz (France-Germany, 2016)

Good lies?

As writer (with Philippe Piazzo) and director François Ozon says in an interview, although the film was made before the UK’s Brexit vote and Trump’s election the film’s message became even more timely in the light of these nationalist calamities. It’s set in Germany, just after World War I, Anna (the magnificent Paula Beer) mourns her fiancé, Frantz, and is puzzled to see a Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney), also attending the deceased’s grave. Unsurprisingly the presence of a representative of the victorious French in a small town causes friction and the early part of the narrative is driven by the mystery of Adrien’s motives.

It’s difficult to write much without giving away why Adrien is in the town and wishes to engage with Frantz’s family, suffice to say that the melodrama investigates nationalism. In one of two key scenes the old men in the town sing ‘Die Wacht am Rhein’; later in the film this is paralleled in Paris with ‘La Marseilles’ sung also by the fathers who sent their sons to a pointless war. Ozon brilliantly links the patriotic anthems to the level if the individual which the rousing songs try to erase. Incidentally these were the songs sung as a dual between the ‘Free French’ and Nazis in Rick’s cafe in Casablanca (US, 1942).

As the image above shows, much of the film is in black and white. Modern lenses, and digital cameras, give the image a pin-point clarity that doesn’t work for me in monochrome cinematography. This is probably because I associate black and white with old movies and the clarity offered by modern lenses means the image doesn’t look like an old movie. So I’m caught between two perceptions and feel alienated from the image. However, in the few moments of happiness in the film the monochrome is transformed into colour that looks absolutely beautiful.

As is often the case in melodrama, an object serves as an emblem and here Manet’s lesser known painting ‘The Suicide’ serves. Its meaning, in the context of the film, is not revealed until the final shot and it is revelatory.

This is the first time the prolific Ozon has impressed me. I’ve found his other films (I’ve only seen four others so I’m not judging him in his entirety) over preoccupied with bourgeois concerns but here he’s made an essential anti-war message from the perspective of those left behind. It was based on Maurice Rostand’s 1920s play which was adapted as Broken Lullaby (US, 1932), directed by Ernst Lubitsch.

2 Responses

  1. […] Frantz (France-Germany, 2016) […]

  2. […] most of Frantz, scintillating monochrome cinematography is used but here its pinpoint clarity works for me. As […]

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