Frantz

François OzonFrance / Germany113 minutes2016STCB&WFrench German

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Director François Ozon’s elegiac tale of love and remembrance is set in a small German town in the aftermath of World War I, where a young woman mourning the death of her fiancé forms a bond with a mysterious Frenchman who has arrived to lay flowers on her beloved’s grave.

Arriving amidst the various centennials marking key events of the First World War — in particular 1916's nearly year-long Battle of Verdun, which scarred France for decades — François Ozon's new film is an elegant, beautifully rendered, mostly black-and-white elegy to a lost generation and the legacy it left. Shot equally in Germany and France, and in both languages, Frantz tells a tale of love and remembrance, of grief and mourning, in the most surprising ways.

Spying a stranger laying a bouquet of roses on her beloved fiancé's grave one day, the quietly grieving Anna (Paula Beer) is both surprised and intrigued. The war has just ended. Anna was engaged to Frantz, who was killed, and the people in her German home town are just beginning to emerge from the shadow of horrendous conflict. Frantz's parents are shattered over their son's death.

Tentatively, the stranger reveals his identity: he is French, and with the war so raw in everyone's minds, he is clearly not welcome in this small community. Yet it emerges that Adrien (Pierre Niney) knew Frantz in the pre-war period, when the two of them became fast friends over their shared love of art and, in particular, music. Anna, along with Frantz's parents, eventually warms to this sensitive Frenchman, who simply wanted to visit the gravesite of his dead friend. But this is only the beginning of a story whose twists and turns take us down emotionally haunting avenues.

Ozon's style is discreet and quietly devastating, a perfectly subtle match for a historical topic that has particular relevance to today's political climate. As enemies try to overcome a painful past, what indeed are the psychological implications of this reconciliation? Finely acted and consummately executed, Frantz is a brilliant addition to Ozon's filmography.

PIERS HANDLING

War + TerrorismDramaWestern EuropeHistory