Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Oct 20, 2016 12:17 pm 
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Ozon redoes the postwar romance in fine style

Ozon's new Frantz at times seems terminally tasteful and tame, impeccably set in post WWI trappings and filmed in handsome black and white (with discreet color segments) that makes everything and everyone look pleasingly generic. Primarily it's a nice vehicle for its two young protagonists, the rising French star Pierre Niney (ex-Comédie Française and the official film YSL) and the promising German newcomer (so awarded at Venice) Paula Beer. Niney plays Adrien Rivoire, the mysterious slim young Frenchman who appears in the little German town cemetery where Anna (Beer) pays daily homage at the grave of her late fiance, Frantz Hoffmeister (Anton von Lucke), killed in the war.

As is his wont Ozon teases and puzzles us. And yet still he lays out points with absolute clarity. When Adrien explains who he is, it takes a while for Frantz's father, Dokter Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) to accept him. But then everybody does. Later comes a shocking surprise that amateur script-doctors may have guessed; and concealment goes on, while the impact of the surprise is muted, some are protected from it, and it's then viewed from various angles.

If nothing gathers intense emotional power, Frantz touches on various intriguing themes. First is the pacifist one. A beer-drinking gang of bereaved German fathers are made to consider that they caused the war and sent their sons off to die in it. Frantz's favorite poet was Verlaine and French was his and Anna's secret language and she is fluent in French as Adrien is in German. But nationalism can't be banished with cultural affinities and a few pious generalizations. One is somewhat in the territory of Vercors' Le silence de la mer, the subject of Jean-Pierre Melville's first film, about the German Occupation officer who just loves everything French; but whose delusions become painful, while all along his humble French "hosts" refuse to ever utter a word to him.

In his Venice review for Variety Jay Weissberg points out that in Frantz Ozon is remaking Ernst Lubitsch’s anti-war drama Broken Lullaby, "expanding the melodrama while soft-pedaling the pacifism." More than that Ozon may see the pacifism as a mere teaser, or a red herring. With these two attractive people (Niney and Beer) drawn (impossibly?) to each other, there is much material for melodrama. But Ozon is having most fun with deception, surprise, and mysterious portents, including multiple hints (with reference to a painting in the Louvre by Manet) of the possibility, or temptation, of suicide. Frantz isn't as clever, sensuous, and certainly not as eccentric and provocative as some of Ozon's previous films. But in a world of kitsch excess, it does stand out. It is an elegant and beautifully made movie. In Hollywood Reporter Boyd van Hoeij saw the French/German mirroring effects as signs of "a master storyteller."

Frantz, 113 mins., in German and French, debuted at Venice, where Paula Beer won the Best Young Actress award. Nine other festivals including Busan, Telluride, Toronto, and London. French theatrical release 7 Sept. 2016 (AlloCiné press rating 3.7/33). The anglophone critics' rating is a bit more lukewarm (Metacritic 63). The film is also included in the NYC Lincoln Center Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2 Mar. 2017(with Ozon) and 11 Mar., and its US theatrical release is 15 Mar., Bay Area 24 Mar.

For the whole plot, see Wikipedia.

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