With Paula Beer and Pierre Niney.
A girl brings flowers to the grave of her fiance, killed during the First World War. We are in Germany, and the wounds are fresh in the spring of 1919, just months after the armistice. Anna (Paula Beer) wears black, walks slowly, deliberately to the grave. She has taken up residence with the parents of her slain intended, the Frantz of the title.
When she finds flowers already there at the grave, and discovers that a young man is responsible, she wants to know who he is and what his relationship is with Frantz. Adrien (Niney), a slight, slender young French man weaves a tale of their relationship, something pleasing to hear, something that mourners would be glad to know. French men who fought in the war are not welcome in Germany. Frantz’s father repels him at first. As the stories unfold that Adrien brings them, and soothes them, the audience can tell it is a deception, and for the first part of the movie, we wait to see the truth unmasked. When it finally comes, as Adrien is about to return to France from the German town he brought himself to as a kind of tribute to Frantz, it feels as if the movie is over.
But that is just the beginning of the story telling. It turns out that Anna cannot bring herself to share the truth with Frantz’s parents, so she invents stories of her own. At this point, the movie bogs down a bit, and I found myself wishing that I could live in the heads of the deluded parents, safe and secure from the ugliness of truth.
War has a habit of taking the will to live away. Stories are sometimes not enough.
The characters all are drawn to the Manet painting, Le Suicide, and besides the movie’s concern with war guilt, truth telling, and nationalism, there is a fair dose of suicide as well. Ozon inserts color at rare moments in this otherwise black and white film, when the characters who are in deep mourning are allowed to live in the moment and be freed of their tragic past.
“Be happy!” urges Adrien as Anna leaves him presumably for the last time. How odd a request to someone so permanently damaged, broken, even. The couple who play Frantz’s parents are excellent (Ernst Strutzner and Marie Gruber), and their stern earnest portrayals hearken back to a serious era of movies, when World War I was fresh in everyone’s minds.