In the opening moments of Frantz, the latest film from writer/director Francois Ozon (In the House, Young & Beautiful), a young woman sees a Frenchman paying his respects at her fiancee’s grave. At face value, the encounter seems perfectly normal. In 1919, just after the cessation of hostilities between Germany and France following the First World War, seeing “the enemy” in such close proximity to a loved one killed in battle sends shock waves through the young woman.
Who is this stranger? How does he know her fallen fiancee? Were they friends? Did they meet during the war? Does he have knowledge of her fiancee’s final days? These questions and many more race through her mind as she decides to learn more about this mysterious foreigner.
Frantz is told from the point of view of the losing side of a great global conflict. The elder generation of Germans depicted in the film remains defiantly nationalistic, and the audience can see the seeds of the Nazi party being sown from this defeat. The mysterious Frenchman is looked upon with disdain if not outright hatred. Even the local physician refuses to treat him when he learns the young man’s true nationality. Despite these resentments, he remains undeterred from his self-imposed mission. (His true motivation will not be revealed here for risk of spoiling the pleasures of the film.)
The film is seen through the eyes of the generation that lost its youth and optimism to the “Great War”. Filmed in stunning black and white, Frantz is set during the period of grieving that tends to follow national tragedies. It’s as if the cinematography itself is dressed for mourning. Intermittent moments of color are injected into the film as life begins to bloom from the ashes of war.
I found myself thinking about the self-absorbed parents from Francois Truffaut’s The 400 Blows who were so interested in their own happiness that they allowed their children to run amok until they landed themselves in a reform school. Perhaps their 20’s were spent grappling with the issues facing the protagonists of this film: survivor’s guilt, the loss of loved ones and the future you imagined with them and the anger that flows from that loss.
“In a period obsessed with truth and transparency, I’ve been wanting to do a film about lies,” Francois Ozon has said in interviews. Frantz begins with a misunderstanding, but, oddly, it’s a lie that makes the characters feel better. It’s a lie that everyone wants to believe. Much like a eulogy at a funeral that comforts everyone with an idealized version of the deceased, Frantz suggests that living our lives based on a lie might be as satisfying as knowing the truth.
[Frantz opens at Landmark Theatre locations across the country on Friday, March 31, 2017.]
The Movie Isle
Scott Phillips holds a degree in print journalism from the University of Georgia and is currently a member of the Georgia Film Critics Association (GAFCA). In addition to his role as a correspondent for Timed Edition, Scott serves as the Executive Editor and Senior Writer for themovieisle.com. From 2013 through 2017, he reviewed films for filmdispenser.com. Along with his duties as a critic, Scott serves as the Content Programmer for the Way Down Film Festival held in Columbus, Georgia every fall.