Movie Review - Frantz

Nominated for 11 César Awards, including Best Film, it won Best Cinematography or Meilleure photo. It's no surprise, as the cinematography is one of the more striking things about it. The trailer of this movie is entirely in black-and-white, which would lead one to believe the actual feature is entirely that way. Yet, that is not the case. The film opens with a shot in full-color. As the story unfolds, we see the scenes toggle back-and-forth between b&w and full-color.

At first, the use of color seems to indicate flashbacks. However, François Ozon's use of color isn't that cut-and-dry. The use of color is more emotional and used to convey feelings or to infuse them into certain scenes to underscore those emotions. With regard to this film, there is a lot of emotion bubbling both above and below the surface, and Ozon manages it very well.

To give context, the majority of the film takes place in Quedlinburg, Germany, in 1919. It's only been a year since the end of World War I, a conflict triggered by the assassination of Austria's Archduke, Franz Ferdinand. Austria declared war on Serbia. Germany declared war on Russia. Russia asked France for help, which France agreed due to past land disputes with Germany, so Germany declared war on France. The main theater of which took place along the French-German border.

Obviously, Germany and the other countries, known as the Central Powers, lost the war. The Paris Peace Conference followed. The main agreement to come out of that conference was the Treaty of Versailles. One of the articles of that treaty was called the "War Guilt" clause in which Germany was forced to take the blame for all the loss and damage. Many believe this war guilt fueled the rise of the Nazis, but others took it to heart. Anyway one looked at it, there was a lot of resentment in both Germany and France, especially just a year later.

Ozon's film works as almost a metaphor for that war guilt, but from a perspective that doesn't demonize any one side. Ozon is at his most compassionate because it could be so easy for him as a French filmmaker to put all the guilt on the Germans in this story who are the protagonists. Yet, he doesn't. He puts it at a significant moment on his singular French, male character. As such, Ozon is a true empath.

In various ways, this film echoes ideas and themes in Christian Petzold's Phoenix. That film was set after World War II and the Holocaust, but like that film, Ozon's work is a two-hander between a man and a woman dealing with the loss of a loved one as a result of the war where one lies about his or her identity, as a way of getting closer to the other. Ozon's film is very similar but arguably better. Petzold's film had the intentions of the characters more straightforward. Here, Ozon has his characters' intentions be more nuanced and complicated.

This allows for more twists and turns that are unexpected. Never did I or could I guess where the movie would go. It felt surprising and refreshing at every turn and at every scene. As typical of Ozon, every turn and every scene are full of sexual tension. As un-typical of Ozon, no one here ever acts on it. It's probably his sexiest film that doesn't depict or even have anyone engage in intercourse.

Paula Beer stars as Anna, a young German girl who meets Adrien Rivoire, played by Pierre Niney (Yves Saint Laurent), a French man who served in the army. They come together over a grave of someone who died during the war. From there begins a relationship that includes an imagined and real trip to the Louvre Museum, Verlaine poetry and violin music, as well as lies and bigotry that must be overcome. Whether people can overcome it is the film's fundamental question and Ozon explores it extremely well.

Rated PG-13 for brief war violence.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 53 mins.


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