François Ozon’s film Frantz raises intriguing questions about telling the truth. What if a comforting fiction works just as well, maybe better? Are we always obligated to relate the exact details, no matter how painful?
It is Germany in the year 1919. Anna (a fabulous Paula Beer) mourns her fiancée, Frantz, a soldier who died in World War I. One day she is stunned to see a Frenchman (Pierre Niney) put flowers on Frantz’ grave.
Anna tells Frantz’ mother (Marie Gruber), and they decide to invite the Frenchman to their home. They do not know Adrien (the Frenchman) has already paid them a visit. Frantz’ father (Ernst Stötzner) threw Adrien out, on the grounds that any Frenchman could have been his son’s murderer.
Adrien receives a different reception on his second visit. Pressed to explain how he knows Frantz, he tells about their friendship in Paris before the war. Adrien tells wonderful stories about the fun they had in the Louvre. Frantz’ parents and, most especially Anna, are happy for the first time in months.
Inevitably, Adrien’s visit arouses suspicion from townspeople. Most would prefer not to have a Frenchman in their midst. That is particularly true for Kreutz (Johann von Bülow), who wants to marry Anna. Kreutz is infuriated by the growing attraction between her and Adrien.
The more Anna and Frantz’ parents defend him, the more uneasy Adrien becomes. Clearly, there is more to this situation than they know.
At about this point, Frantz takes a wide turn from its source material, the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch film Broken Lullaby (this week’s companion film for Thinking Cinema). Lubitsch’s film focuses on how the visitor assuages the parents’ grief. Ozon concentrates on the ways Adrien spurs Anna to make a new life for herself. That section of the Ozon film contains a spiraling narrative that becomes a bit tedious before finally paying off.
It will probably come as no surprise that Ozon emphasizes different themes from Lubitsch. Given the period in which Frantz has been made, it is understandable Ozon would call attention to the tensions between French and Germans. Adrien points out that French boys are taught to speak German, and German boys taught to speak French, then they are told to go and kill one another.
Ozon communicates a sense of “otherness” to the audience through language. Adrien speaks German while in Germany-no one attempts to accommodate him. In similar fashion, Anna must speak French during the latter part of the film. It is striking that Anna, who has been part of “us” throughout, becomes part of “them” when she travels to France.
Large parts of the film are in black-and-white, with color sequences popping in for events that stir the emotions. All the cinematography is stunning. It combines with the lush, romantic score to create a hypnotic film about forgiveness and the noble lie.
Theme: Useful Fictions
Related Posts: Film Appreciation: Broken Lullabyhttp://www.thinkingcinema.com/film-appreciation-broken-lullaby/
Useful Fictions: List For Week Ending March 19, 2017 http://www.thinkingcinema.com/useful-fictions-list-for-week-ending-march-19-2017/