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'Frantz' would be the perfect film to be aired by the bilingual Franco-German television station Arte. It's half German and half French. In fact, the film is about how these two countries come to grips with the aftermath of the First World War. There is a German and a French lead character, and both languages are spoken. This is unusual, but doesn't feel strange. The story starts in 1919, with a young widow visiting the grave of her fiancé, who died in France during the war. When she notices a Frenchman visiting his grave, she is taken aback. He presents himself as an old friend from the time the soldier studied in Paris. But little things reveal that this is not the whole story. Soon, the truth emerges and the story takes some surprising and moving twists. Acclaimed French director Francois Ozon has put a lot into this movie. It is an anti-war story, but also a bitter-sweet love story as well as a portrayal of a society suffering from a post war trauma. It is most of all an appeal for mutual understanding and rejection of prejudice. In this sense, the message is now more urgent than ever, in view of the growing support for populist and even racist politics on both sides of the Atlantic. The film is shot in beautiful and stylish black and white, perfectly capturing the elegance of the period. Ozon doesn't need any distracting subplots or flashy gimmicks, apart from the use of colour in a few scenes. I couldn't quite figure out the meaning of this. Some colour scenes are set in a different time frame, others seem to indicate the rare moments of happiness in a time that's full of grief and sorrow. The very last scene captures one of those moments in a wonderful way.
This movie threw me for a loop. It got a good review in the newspaper I
read, and a friend invited me to go with her friends, so I did. I was
not expecting to be overwhelmed by one of the very finest, most
beautiful movies I have ever had the good fortune to see.
To begin with, this movie repeatedly throws you for a loop. You are sure you know where it's going - or at least I was sure - only to discover that you were wrong and the characters have something else in mind. I can't explain any of that without spoiling it for you, which I won't, but suffice it to say that this movie is full of surprises.
It is also full of great acting. Understated, yes, but very great nonetheless.
And the photography, often black and white, is wonderful.
It's hard to write much about this movie without spoiling it for those who have not seen it yet, which I most certainly do not want to do.
So I will close by saying that I sat entranced through the whole thing - and that is no exaggeration. If you enjoy great acting beautifully photographed and directed, you will love this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Frantz" is a co-production between Germany and France and this also
explains (apart from the story) that both languages are included to
some extent in this almost 2-hour movie. Unless you are fluent in both
languages, make sure you get a set of good subtitles. This one here is
the newest work by BAFTA-nominated filmmaker François Ozon, one of
France's finest for sure. The lead performances come from German
actress Paula Beer and promising French actor Pierre Niney. And with
this (already) award-winning film, both show their potential at times.
Still, despite the solid performances, I see this film mostly as a
writer's and director's piece for Ozon and this is how I would define
it. It is the story of a young woman who meets a man with a mysterious
reference to her late boyfriend. And with "late", I am referring to the
fact that the film plays right after World War I, so over a century
ago, and said boyfriend died in combat. But this is just half the film.
When the female protagonist finds out exactly who the male protagonist
is, it is far from over, but things actually get more complicated.
Anyway, I personally guessed there may be a homosexual relationship
involved between the two men, but I was very wrong with that. Talking
about the main actors, I felt that Beer occasionally looked like a
slightly rougher Rachel McAdams and this is also why sweetheart roles
will probably never be her thingey. There has to be something dark and
soulful to her characters, but that's perfectly fine. Niney on the
other hand to me looked like a mix of Adrien Brody and one of the
Boardwalk Empire actors whose name I cannot remember right now.
This film is (fittingly with the time when it plays) in black-and-white. However, there are some moments of color and Ozon used these mostly to show a promising, somewhat optimistic moment and when things got worse again or bleaker again, then he quickly returned to the standard black-and-white. It's personal preference how much you like his approach there. I myself thought it was okay without being too overwhelmed by this creative decision. The acting overall was fairly good. German audiences will see a handful familiar faces too, such as Johann von Bülow's for example. As a whole I enjoyed the watch. I was not totally impressed and I would not mention this as one of my favorites from 2016, but the film certainly had its convincing moments. I quite liked the singing in the French pub as this scene made it obvious for the main character to be an outsider as well while, for everything before that the French male character was the one on the outside. And I liked that Ozon did not go for a kitschy happy ending as there were admittedly here and there some scenes that were slightly kitschy already. But in terms of degree and quantity, it is all very bearable. The very last scene was an uplifting one and I guess the director wanted his audience to leave the theater on a positive note with a bit of a smile on their lips and not in a too depressing state, even if he had to sacrifice a bit of realism for a feel-good moment there. But honestly, the film could have become much darker even with the suicide of one of the two main characters that was definitely an option looking at how many times the suicide-related painting was reference. Okay, enough now. I enjoyed the watch and I recommend seeing it, especially if you like historic films about the first half of the 20th century or just German/French films in general. You will not regret the watch in that scenario.
I go to the cinema to see often - two or three times each month - 'the
better movies and no so commercial movies' and in 2016 Frantz was the
best movie I have seen so far this year, by far! The brilliant
narrative structure of this movie in black and white and the use of
colour just at the right moments is something you should see for
yourself. I like also the fact that the German people really talk
German and that the French people really speak French. And with the
black and with images you can feel yourself dropped back in 1919.
François Ozon is such a diversified director. I have seen already his
movies Sous le sable, Swimming Pool, 8 femmes, 5x2, Le temps qui reste
and Jeune & Jolie. These are all very different movies. And as in all
movies from Ozon he always tries to surprise us - viewers - with a
twist in the plot. So the story line is never predictable, and in
Frantz you never know what will happen next. All the actors we're
splendid, and you really could feel yourself back in 1919. And the
melodrama is the genre of movie I like so much.
This is my TOP 20 of (new) movies that I saw at the cinema in 2016: 1. Frantz; 2. Magallanes; 3. La Pazza Gioia; 4. An; 5. Juliana; 6. Tanna; 7. Hell Or High Water; 8. Les Innocentes; 9. L'Économie Du Couple; 10. El Olivo; 11. 45 Years; 12. Truman; 13. Carol; 14. Spotlight; 15. The Idol; 16. Slow West; 17. Eye In The Sky; 18. The Handmaiden; 19. The Hateful Eight; 20. The Revenant.
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