Directed by Francois Orzon
Starring Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stotzner
It is 1919 and post war Germany is still coming to terms with its losses. With her fiancé killed in the war, Anna (Paula Beer) lives with her parents helping them through their grief. One day she discovers a young French man (Pierre Niney) leaving flowers on her Frantz’s grave, and seeks to find out how he knew her fiancé. The story he tells, brings relief to her and Frantz’s family, but it is clear that he is holding a secret that could change that.
There is something about Frantz that feels like it is of another time, far beyond its post Great War setting. It’s deliberate slow pacing, crisp black and white cinematography, heavy reliance on dialogue to further the plot and character development, all add to this sensation. In fact if it wasn’t for the multiple camera angles, edits and a couple of other cinematic tricks, it would be easy to think of this as a film from the Golden Age of cinema. Little surprise as director Francois Orzon is heavily inspired by Ernst Lubitsch’s 1932 film Broken Lullaby. Orzon has changed the perspective from the young French soldier to the German widow, and added an extensive postscript looking at France.
The result is intriguing, allowing the characters time and space to breathe and develop (although at almost 2 hours, maybe a little too much). In many ways the two parts are mirrored images of the other, showing the similarities between the two recent foes, the damages they have suffered, the sorrow they share, and the festering resentment and nationalism on both sides. There is impact in seeing this from the eyes of both an insider and then a foreigner, shifting your perspective. It hammers home the message of a lost empathy in times of war. To see the common humanity in the enemy, instead of all too easily demonising the “other”.
Both Beer and Niney bring a sense of gentle sorrow to their characters. Niney carries about him a constant burden; you are left with no doubt that his character has seen and done things that he regrets. Beer girds herself in a manner of quiet determination and disinterested politeness, but again you can see the depth of emotions that lurk beneath the mask. Together their performances make this film, as the characters are given the space required to grow.
A slow moving film that rewards patience, Frantz is both a beautiful and melancholic study of the scars left by conflict.