Frantz: A scathingly anti-nationalist warning from history
A remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 anti-war classic ‘Broken Lullaby’
Paula Beer plays Anna who lives with her finance’s parents after his death.
Adrien (Pierre Niney) and Anna (Paula Beer): Adrien’s broken demeanour speaks a dark history.
Film Title: Frantz
Director: François Ozon
Starring: Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber
Running Time: 114 min
After her fiance’s death in the first World War, Anna (Paula Beer) continues to live with her husband-to-be’s devastated parents, Hans (Ernst Stötzner) and Magda (Marie Gruber) in defeated Germany.
She’s all they have left: Frantz’s body was not returned from the trenches. One day, Anna spies a stranger leaving flowers on his empty grave. Surprisingly, the man, named Adrien (Pierre Niney), is French. When he first calls on Frantz’s father, Hans dismisses him: “All Frenchmen killed my only son.”
Slowly, however, the makeshift family, especially Anna, warm to their Gallic visitor, and delight in his tales of he and Frantz’s pre-war adventures in Paris. But Adrien’s broken demeanour speaks a darker history.
Director François Ozon (Under the Sand, 8 Women, Swimming Pool) remakes the Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 anti-war classic Broken Lullaby and seamlessly adds a new, poignant third act: all the better to admire the filmmaker’s latest conflicted heroine-turned-detective. Taking cues from the original, Ozon and cinematographer Pascal Marti craft handsome monochrome tableaux, only to blossom into colour during flashbacks and hints of life beyond post-war mourning.
Manet’s painting Le Suicidé looms large in the film, alternately as a clue to possible whereabouts and states of mind. The tragically themed artwork shifts meaning throughout: it is initially and ironically introduced as part of happier times refrain.
Such game-playing is typical for the post-Hitchcockian Ozon, who, throughout Frantz, teases with disingenuous epistolary voiceover and untrustworthy images. One bravura scene inverts the Marseillaise scene from Casablanca with a rousing rendition that is hate-filled, threatening and xenophobic. Even the title serves as a twisty political homonym: France is victorious, but at the cost of Frantz.
A splendid cast work through the complications and stages of grief to provide a scathingly anti-nationalist warning from history.