In association with the GFT
Francois Ozon’s Frantz begins just as it continues: quietly and apprehensively, with little fanfare. Anna – young, restrained and delicately played by newcomer Paula Beer – is visiting the grave of her fiancé Frantz, a German soldier killed in the last months of the First World War, when she unexpectedly comes across a Frenchman laying flowers on the dead man’s grave. This sudden appearance of a wartime enemy is a difficult one to stomach for the defeated Germans, especially when the stranger reveals himself to be Adrien (Pierre Niney), an unknown friend of Frantz’s from his studies in Paris before the war. But, despite the uncomfortable xenophobia that flickers through the film, his arrival promises hope and relief to Frantz’ suffering family – a chance to move past their unbearable grief, and grasp at life again.
Set in the German town of Quedlinburg shortly after the end of the First World War, Frantz is a muted, understated slow-burner of a watch. Although the decision to film almost entirely in black and white might seem like a fairly obvious cinematic metaphor – black and white to represent sorrow, occasional brief flashes of colour to indicate palpable joy – it’s an artistic resolve that undoubtedly works. At times, the lack of colour is almost torturous in its oppressiveness, especially after a seamless burst into colour, and helps to illuminate the crippling aftermath of war.
The interaction between the French and Germans is one of Frantz’s real strengths, in its exploration of how people navigate their way around attitudes that are no longer relevant, and vendettas that have officially ceased to exist. This is more effectively captured in the film’s first half, with its quiet suspense and thoughtfulness. Yet as the film shifts locations, one can’t help but feel that Frantz suffers from disjointedness and overly abrupt scene changes. Although the character of Anna – whose actions are at times indecipherable – continually intrigues, the revelation of Adrien’s backstory doesn’t feel entirely convincing, despite Pierre Niney’s stellar performance.
Overall, it’s a strangely absorbing, complex attempt at understanding the dynamics of family and war which – despite its small disappointments – is definitely worth the watch.
This film will be screened at the Glasgow Film Theatre from the 12th to the 18th of May, tickets are available here: http://glasgowfilm.org/shows/frantz-12a
The GFT also offers a free 15-25 discount card for students, available here: http://glasgowfilm.org/plan-your-visit/memberships/15-25-card