Some films seep into your bones and only slowly fade away. I wasn’t expecting this François Ozon film to have such poignancy. On the surface it seems conventional, not withstanding its artful and at first unnoticed shifts from black-and-white to colour. In a German village in 1919, families are freshly wounded from the recent war and anti-French emotions run high. Bereaved Anna (Paula Beer), whose fiance Frantz died on the front line, regularly visits his grave. One day she finds fresh flowers there and discovers that a French man, Adrien (Pierre Niney), is also marking his grief at the grave.
Frantz’s father, Dr Hoffmeister (Ernst Stöttner), who refuses to have anything to do with the French, is incensed but his wife, Magda (Marie Gruber), and Anna persuade him to meet with Adrien. Their anger turns to a shared sorrow as Adrien recounts his friendship with Frantz in Paris before the war and, for brief moments, provides them with joyful and colourful memories of their son.
All is not as it seems though and this is not unexpected. We are not as easily fooled as the Hoffmeisters and we can see that Adrien holds a painful secret. This is not a simple story though; it shifts as we learn Adrian’s secret but that is not where it ends. It shifts again and then again, all the while circling inexorably around Anna as we watch her fragility and resolve.
Unusually for me is the chance to see the First World War from the point of view of Germans and the similarity of experience between the citizens of both countries is highlighted – the patriotism, prejudice and devastation. Ozon uses symmetry to emphasise the shared experience, such as the repeated scenes and themes within the narrative arc and even in the initials of Frantz and Anna and Fanny and Adrien.
The ending is particularly resonant and if you think about the significance of the shift from black-and-white to colour, it is coded to perhaps give us a particular understanding of it that belies its superficial meaning. Beautiful and memorable.
Bechdel test – fail
Currently in cinemas