The good film is characterized by a pensive interlude, often silent. It extends from the final credits to the callousing return to daylight, and is broken when one asks one’s friend: ‘Do you think he was a coward?’.
Frantz is such a film. Set in 1919 Germany, it offers an astonishing flashback to the adolescence of the avid reader, who surely read his share of Remarque. It rings with that slower, more pensive and inherently poetic atmosphere that we grow to forget as we mature – away from the world of dreams. The rain-slickened cobblestones accentuate that intensely natural, woodsy flavor of Central Europe. The beautiful protagonist, Anna (played by the demure Paula Beer), remarks that what makes her love springtime is the sound of leaves rustling in the wind. I recall savoring the remarkably fresh greenery of Berlin last summer, and found it indeed apt to have viewed this film so close to the delicate (if allergenic) flowering of Bloomsbury squares.
It is a superb film: the plot is ripe not only with mystery but with emotion. All actors finely avoid melodrama, and many of them inspire tenderness. It is a multi-facted film that conjures up not only the tropes of love and death but the workings of the strange and fabulous construction called life.
2016. François Ozon: director of ‘Jeune et Jolie’ and ‘Dans La Maison’. Dark films all three; ‘Frantz’ is less satirical – although it retains Ozon’s observance of how life’s ironies turn on humans. Like his other films, this one too is voyeuristic: it is the slightly unstable Adrien who encroaches upon his victim’s deepest intimacy by way of the imagination: he comes to fall in love with the dead, rather artistically, through observation of what remains after the death of a man who he killed in an accidental lovers’ embrace.
Cinematography is in keeping with the themes: elegant, lyrical, sombre in a simultaneously tragic and quiet muteness. 2013 ‘Ida’ comes to mind, and both films showcase the timelessness of black and white, which can indeed translate into the 21st century without seeming jarring or outdated. ‘Frantz”s moments of symbolic coloring were not overdone, though they did encourage a wish in the viewer to see Anna perfectly happy.
Pierre Niney’s intense eyes and superb French complement the fascinating and incomprehensible character of Adrien. Paula Beer is sweet and appropriate in her perfume of mournfulness, though occasionally excessively stoic. Anton von Lucke did not strike a particular impression as ‘Frantz’, but might have been incapable of doing so as a result of the plot. In exchange, Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber are realistic enough to inspire veritable pity.
What makes this a rare movie is its detachment from moral judgments. It avoids didacticism, but is rather objective through its multi-vocal nature without being smug: like an Aznavour song, it successfully reflects on a passage of life that simply is… in a point in time, smelling of cigarette smoke and impenetrable enigma.