An artful addition to our understanding of the effects of WW I.
Director: Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool)
Cast: Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent), Paula Beer (The Dark Valley)
Runtime: 1 hr 53 min
by John DeSando
“It makes me want to live.” Anna (Paula Beer)
After viewing Manet’s Le Suicide, protagonist Anna asserts her will to live despite the deaths from WWI and especially her fiancé, Frantz (Anton von Lucke). Up to this point director Francois Ozon has kept the mostly black and white melodrama in a state of mourning, relieved by the visit from a French friend from the war, Adrien (Pierre Niney).
A film of such classical pedigree, which was originally made by Ernst Lubitsch in Broken Lullaby, takes its time for dialogue to flesh out the ironies and plot twists emanating from Adrien’s visit. His secrets will change Anna’s life and that of his parents, Dr. and Mrs. Hoffmeister. It is a film of depth that asks us to accept life’s imperfections and our enemies. It is also at times so somber as almost to demand of the perpetually-grieving Anna, “Get a life.”
Over all this deep drama lies the allegorical relationship between France and Germany: The Germans do not easily accept this French visitor, despite the fact he has come to honor his friend, because he reminds them of the humiliating German loss from that war (still a very proud people). As Anna learns the true nature of Adrien’s visit, like Germany and France she is caught in the struggle of vengeance versus forgiveness.
We learn about the salutary effect of that forgiveness through a confessional scene, where a priest is able to express the hope that Anna can forgive Adrien just as the French must forgive the Germans. It’s not a subtle subtext, but it is a powerful theme that dogs French and Germans to this day.
Frantz the movie will keep you thinking not only about the aftermath of WWI, but also of the ignorance most people have about the ones we love the most. Not all is as it seems, but like Anna we must choose life over death, illusion over reality. As the priest in the confessional with Anna says, “What would the truth bring? Only more pain.”
Although Le Suicide is a fine and pretty painting, life, including a new love, is the real subject for this film and our future.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com