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Frantz : Ozon et Niney au top

By Matthew Anderson

François Ozon's latest feature, "Frantz", is a stylistically rich, emotionally restrained historical endeavour. It is led by strong performances from Pierre Niney and Paula Beer. This Franco-German co-production, selected for the 2016 BFI London Film Festival's Official Competition, takes place in the immediate aftermath of World War I. With ink on the Treaty of Versailles yet to dry and resentments on each side of the border at fever pitch, a young German woman, Anna (Beer), mourns her fiancé killed in action at the front. Giving his name to Ozon's film though not present in the present, Frantz looms large over all proceedings. 

Ozon and cinematographer Pascal Marti drain the majority of Frantz of any colour, employing a crisp monochrome that recalls the chilling brilliance of Michael Haneke's The White Ribbon. Reflective of Anna's sullen state of mind and being, where all vibrancy has left with the death of her beloved, it efficiently focuses attention on character and sombre emotion, rather than the architecturally magnificent town of Quedlinburg.

Pierre Niney and ?? ? in Frantz
Pierre Niney and Paula Beer in Frantz

Whilst attempting to come to terms with the loss, Anna's hand in marriage is requested by local nationalist, Kreutz (Johan von Bülow)​​​​. Seeking refuge from his advances, she regularly visits Frant'z grave where one day she sees a young Frenchman paying his respects. Under the auspices of being unwell, this man, Adrien Rivoire (Niney), visits Anna's former father-in-law (Ernst Stö​tzner), the local doctor. Upon discovering his nationality, his would-be patient is shown to the door.

A mellowing of resentment, thanks in large part to mother-in-law Magda (Marie Gruber), Adrien is allowed back into their home because they want to hear about his relationship with Frantz and about their time spent studying together in Paris. A flood of colour fills the screen when nostalgic, happy reminiscing lifts the tone and mood of all assembled. Though as is so often the case with Ozon's work allusion, ambiguity and suggestion mean that Frantz is rife for debate and multiple readings. Did Adrien and Frantz have more than a mere friendship? What were the circumstances of his death? Will Anna and Adrien form a romantic union?

If the colour has gone from Anna's current life then it is musicality which has been lost from Adrien's. Each shell-shocked on a sensory level by Frantz's absence, Adrien is unable to play the violin as he no longer hears the notes. Answers to the questions above lead to a see-sawing between the German town and the French capital and a series of hand-written correspondence where truth, compassion, understanding and forgiveness are sought on both sides. The film's reserved attitude will split opinion but as a study of grief, affairs of the heart and the futility of recrimination as well as war, Frantz is a solid period piece. 


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