Editor's Note: Nathaniel previously reviewed Frantz at TIFF. Now with its US release a week away, here's Eric with a second look.
Frantz, director François Ozon’s most recent picture, opens in limited release in one week and is also part of Lincoln Center’s current "Rendezvous with French Cinema" series. Ozon is one of France’s most profilic filmmakers (he makes a film almost every year), and he’s given us many fine pictures, including the Charlotte Rampling chillers Swimming Pool and Under the Sand, the actressy 8 Women, and his deepest film, Time to Leave. But Ozon has never made a film as ravishing and complete as Frantz.
This film, which was nominated for 11 César Awards and won the Cinematography prize at the ceremony, contains a simple story which keeps unfolding in complex and surprising ways....
Young Frantz, a German pacifist, is killed during World War I, and each day his fiancé Anna (Paula Beer) brings flowers to his grave. One day, she is surprised to see a French stranger named Adrien (Pierre Niney) also laying a flower on the grave. While the war has officially ended, the tension between the Germans and the French remains dangerously high, and as Anna embroils Adrien into her life and the lives of Frantz’s parents, the drama reveals itself in interesting layers.
The stunning black and white cinematography, which occasionally goes to color, creates an atmosphere somewhere between a newsreel and a Renoir film from the 1930s. Ozon thrusts you into both countries with seemingly effortless effect, and he keeps his focus on the actors and their motivations. There’s no fat on the movie, and all the small details culminate in increasingly meaningful ways.
Pierre Niney won the César for Best Actor two years ago for playing the eponymous Yves St. Laurent. He has the angular handsomeness of Adrien Brody, and a caginess that’s all his own. He’s always playing multiple intentions in a way that keeps you guessing. He does marvelous work with Paula Beer, who evidently was only 20 years old when the film was shot but carries it on her shoulders superbly. There’s a point midway where her performance becomes incredibly sensual, and her austere beauty takes on a new dimension, similar to what Liv Ullman looked and felt like in the 70s. These two actors do a difficult dance that elevate the film to a true level of mystery.
Though it takes place almost a hundred years ago, Frantz has a startling relevance in its themes of foreign paranoia and convoluted truth. You feel Ozon’s inspiration in every frame, and it’s the most adult and mature film he’s made. There’s a beating heart in this film, and it lingers powerfully.
Opening: Frantz plays this Saturday March 11th at the Walter Reade and opens in limited US release on Wednesday March 15th