Frantz ***

Strong drama deals with lost love, betrayal, and lingering post-war national sentiment.  

Is it worth $10? Yes   

Out of nowhere, he appears at the cemetery. Thin, frail, terrible mustache. He places flowers on her dead fiancée’s tombstone. As he passes, the melancholy is unmistakable. His name is Adrien. Her name is Anna. Anna’s fiancée was Frantz, and the movie, aptly titled “Frantz,” is a taut, complex and deep-feeling drama about war, secrets, and redemption.

It’s 1919 in a small German village. The Great War has just ended, and many sons and fathers from this village didn’t return. The locals hate the French, whom they blame for murdering their loved ones. So when Adrien (Pierre Niney) first appears to Frantz’s father, Hans (Ernst Stotzner), who is a doctor, he’s promptly kicked out. But Anna (Paula Beer), who still lives with her would-have-been in-laws, sees Adrien at the cemetery and soon strikes up a conversation with him, and then vouches for him to Hans and Frantz’s mother (Marie Gruber).

They ask Adrien probing questions, but Adrien is reserved and doesn’t volunteer information. He tells of his friendship with Frantz (Anton von Lucke) during the war and what Frantz meant to him. Naturally Adrien is holding back, reticent to share anything offensive, or too much too soon. Like Anna, the audience wonders why Adrien is doing what he’s doing. The fact that his true reason and motivation are revealed 50 minutes into the film, leaving another hour for the story to go in a different but worthwhile direction, is a credit to director Francois Ozon’s (“Swimming Pool”) ability to provide surprises in what you think is a predictable tale.

Ozon and cinematographer Pascal Marti present the film in striking black and white, with only dashes of color noticeable when Frantz “comes alive” for the protagonists. Aesthetically the black and white reflects how we look back on a bygone era, but more than that it forces the viewer to focus on the characters and dialog, which feeds directly into “Frantz’s” strengths.

The script by Philippe Piazzo is tight and cool, rarely stopping for sentimentality within the bleakness of its characters’ lives. The actors bring out the best of what the dialog has to offer, especially Beer, whose Anna is torn between mourning for Frantz, wanting to move on, and not knowing what to make of Adrien. Given that we don’t know what to make of him either, and Niney plays him so ominously close to the chest, the viewer is kept in a sustained state of wonder that’s richly satisfying.

Another issue in play is how deep-seeded hatred lingers long after the last wartime bullet is fired. At the start, no one in Germany wants to give Adrien a chance, immediately branding him as a bad guy with disregard for his actual intentions. They’re right to be suspicious, but as we learn, in a different time Frantz and Adrien would’ve been lifelong friends, and Frantz’s family, including Anna, would’ve warmly welcomed Adrien into the fold. In effect, war killed these relationships before they began, and because of the enmity that pervades, it could very well deter similar relationships for years.

“Frantz” is a gradually paced, highly effective drama that showcases tremendous acting and writing in the best ways cinema can. See it, or you’ll be missing out.

Did you know?
It’s loosely based on the Ernst Lubitsch film “Broken Lullaby” (1932).

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