Set immediately after World War I, Frantz, the latest by the prolific François Ozon, is structured by, and titled after, an absence: a young German soldier killed in battle. Other deficiencies, not intended, soon become apparent in this Lost Generation tale of love, grief, and lies, which Ozon liberally adapted from Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby (1932).
The film opens in 1919 in Quedlinburg, a town in north-central Deutschland where Frantz Hoffmeister’s fiancée, Anna (Paula Beer), lives with her dead beloved’s equally inconsolable parents. Sharing their anguish is Adrien (Pierre Niney), a mysterious Frenchman — and thus a Great War enemy — spotted by Anna at Frantz’s grave, weeping for the close friend with whom he used to spend hours at the Louvre.
“What was it between you?” asks Anna of Adrien, whose recounting of episodes of Frantz at his most alive are balm to her and the heartsick Hoffmeisters (the best, most touching line: “Don’t be afraid to make us happy,” said by Frau H. as she encourages Adrien to continue his regaling). But as the emotional fulcrum of the film, the deepening ties between Anna and Adrien have the same kind of dull, matte gloss of the black-and-white cinematography — monochrome that occasionally segues to color, an ill-conceived gambit occasioned by flashbacks and fleeting moments of joy. Though Beer, in her first high-profile role, and Niney, best known for playing Yves Saint Laurent in a dutiful 2014 biopic, cut arresting, lissome figures, the increasing closeness of their characters, intimacy in part predicated on the perpetuation of myths, rarely rises above the etiolated. The savage derangements of grief so guttingly explored by Ozon in Under the Sand (2000), a career-revitalizing project for Charlotte Rampling, are decorously treated in Frantz.
Written and directed by François Ozon
Music Box Films
Opens March 15, Film Forum and Lincoln Plaza Cinemas