“Frantz” a Lovely, Melancholy Reflection on War, Love and Death
By Skip Sheffield
Ah, the French. They have such a beautiful sense of melancholy.
“Frantz” revels in melancholia. Writer-Director Francois Ozon has set the story, adapted from Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 anti-war film “Broken Lullaby,” in Germany and France in 1919, just after World War I. Anna (Paula Beer, just 21 and luminous) is a young German woman whose fiancé Frantz Hoffmeister (Anton von Lucke in flashbacks) died in the “War to end all wars.” We see Anna placing flowers on the grave of Frantz. One day a stranger shows up at the cemetery and puts his own flowers on the grave.
He is Adrien (Pierre Niney), a French veteran of the bitter war. Adrien tells Anna Frantz was his best friend before the war tore them apart. He regales her with their times together; in particular a visit to the Louvre in Paris, where Frantz admired a Manet painting with “a young man with his head thrown back.” For this brief episode the black-and-white film becomes color.
The German townspeople don’t take too kindly to Adrien. He is shunned and even spat upon. Dr. Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stotzner) refuses to treat him or even let him in his house. Anna, who has no family, lives with Dr. Hans and his wife Magda (Marie Gruber).
“Every Frenchman is my son’s murderer,” Dr. Hans fumes.
Despite the ill will, Anna is intrigued by the handsome, morose Frenchman. Soon her adopted family comes around. But all is not what it seems. Mistruths and outright lies intersect with reality. The Manet painting so admired by Frantz and Adrien is called “The Suicide.” Adrien is not the simple, poor French boy he professed to be.
Enigmatic as well as melancholy, “Frantz” is ultimately hopeful that the wounds of war can be healed. When Anna beholds the Manet painting in color at the Louvre, a young man admiring it remarks, “You like it too?”
“Yes,” Anna says. “It makes me want to live.”