French writer/director François Ozon has made some of my favorite films these last few years. With The New Girlfriend, In the House, and Potiche he’s shown himself to be very adept with comedy and unusual situations. But with his new film Frantz, he enters the realm of historical drama and shows he is equally skilled in more serious films. A semi-remake of Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, it’s set just after the first World War, in a small German town. It’s the story of Anna (Paula Beer), a beautiful, young German woman whose fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke) died in the war and Adrien (Pierre Niney), a sad young Frenchman, who comes to town having been close friends with Frantz in Paris before the war. She discovers him as he is laying flowers on Frantz’s grave, and he becomes a source of happy memories for her and for Frantz’s grieving parents.
Adrien is not exactly welcomed by the townspeople, having been on the winning side in the war. And Anna has a new suitor she isn’t the least interested in who likes Adrien even less for seeming to be in his way. But Adrien and Anna become close in their shared grief over Frantz’s death. And he shares stories of his and Frantz’s happy days in Paris, and is grudgingly accepted by Frantz’s parents, as well. But all the while you can tell there is something that he isn’t telling them. And when he admits his secret to Anna and goes back to Paris, she follows him. There are twists here that I won’t reveal since it would ruin your viewing. But it has a quite satisfying if unexpected ending.
Most of the film is in black and white, but the Parisian memory flashbacks and some other scenes are in full color, a technicolor vision of happiness that is extremely well shot. And the actors are perfect. The way that the post-war French-German animosities are portrayed rings familiar in the divided America of today. And the way that the family dispenses with their nationalistic animus when there is comfort coming from someone on the other side is hopeful. It’s a beautiful film about love, loss, and the aftermath of war. I highly recommend it to foreign film lovers and period drama aficionados.