Hello, random German-French film. You gotta love those theaters that show movies you didn’t even know were out.
Well, that may not be the most accurate statement. I had actually seen the trailer to this movie awhile back. Once, but I was aware that this was being made and I would be lying if I said I wasn’t interested. It looked like it was about this German woman whose husband died in war and a French friend came to his grave and the two strike up a possible romance. Whatever the case, I was hooked. Especially since… weren’t the Germans and French enemies at that time? This looked ripe for some serious drama.
I don’t know how much point it would be for me to list names for either cast or crew as I wouldn’t know anyone’s previous projects. Believe it or not, before starting this blog, I didn’t often watch foreign films. Maybe that will change in the future and I’ll see more movies with actors and crew that I will recognize.
This is my honest opinion of: FRANTZ
Set in 1919 Germany, post-World War I. Anna (Paula Beer) lost her husband Frantz in the war and grieves for him. She lives with his parents Magda (Marie Gruber) and Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) But soon, she is paid a visit by a kindly French man named Adrien (Pierre Niney), who was a friend of Frantz before his death. Though he is met with suspicion and even hostility at first, he quickly wins the hearts and minds of the Hoffmeister family. But as Adrien and Anna become closer, secrets are revealed, complicating their relationship.
Wow. If ever there was a genuinely great art-house movie this year, this would be it. But before jumping into this review, a note for those of you interested in this movie, it is shot entirely in black and white. I know a lot of movie-goers out there associate black and white movies with anything prior to THE WIZARD OF OZ (1939) and that they’re all slow and boring. Well… then you’ve made up your mind about this and you’re closing down this review anyway. So go and watch your Michael Bay and Paul W.S. Anderson films. The rest of us are going to enjoy good movies and appreciate proper film-making.
I think this story is beyond interesting. I know back in this period of time, the German and French people didn’t get along very well, so it’s fascinating to make a story that’s on the perspective of the civilian people and how they feel about each other. Like, even though Anna’s husband was a German soldier, she doesn’t treat Adrien like a bad person. In fact, she’s quite civil with him, albeit a little skeptical. Magda is also very welcoming of Adrien, but Hans needed a great deal of persuasion. He treated Adrien like he was the man who killed his son and blames him for their misfortune. Some of the townspeople treat him like a personal enemy as well, like there’s this doctor that constantly asks Anna for her hand in marriage. He sure doesn’t like Adrien on many levels, but you feel his hatred both as a German to a French man, and as a personal hate for possibly developing a romance with Anna. But again, there’s a nice balance when Adrien takes Anna to a social gathering and he dances with some German women. You could easily argue that they didn’t know he was French, but it’s still nice to see this mix of treatment. Any other movie would have every German that Adrien comes by harass or attack him. I’m thrilled to see this movie show some imagination.
The acting in this movie is fantastic, very nuanced. Anna isn’t sobbing throughout the story, but she is clearly grieving and thinking of him. She smiles when a nice story is told about her husband, and listens when more serious topics arise. There’s such a beautiful grounded demeanor to Anna and all that is due to the amazing talent of Beer who brings her to life. Niney is also phenomenal as Adrien. Adrien always carries himself with sadness, but you never get the feeling that he’s telling the whole truth. Either way, Niney’s acting is so brilliantly subtle that you believe every word, every motion, it breaks your heart and keeps your eyes glued to the screen.
But I think my favorite element to the movie is its use of color. I know, that’s probably an odd thing to say, but if you’re reading this section, then you’re probably already aware of what I’m referring to. As I said before, the movie is mostly in black and white, but there are a few scenes with color, specifically when Frantz is talking about his friendship with Frantz, I think there was a present-day scene when Anna and Adrien are together, and the closing scene right before the credits roll.
Here’s what I took away from it. The colored scenes represent lies. As we later discover, Adrien and Frantz were never friends. They were both soldiers and briefly met on the battlefield and Adrien killed Frantz out of panic, not desire, and his undying urge to know the one man he killed in war haunted him and he learned enough to track his family down and took an opportunity to get to know him. When he tells them how he knows Frantz, the scene with the two men is shown in color. This certainly cocked my eyebrow at first, and definitely when Adrien and Anna were together in color. But as soon as Adrien confesses that he’s been lying the whole time and that he was the one who killed Frantz in war, that’s when he learn what the color represented: a lie of a much more desirable truth. Of course, this raises the question of why the end-scene was in color. If I remember correctly – and I’m surprised this isn’t a quick review by this point – Anna meets Adrien in the museum where they look upon a famous painting. I forget the lines of dialog, but they seem to be on good terms when the previous scene has them separating on a bittersweet note. If I had a guess, Anna really did love Adrien, but circumstances kept them apart and she’s thinking about the better life that they could have had together. Though… why this is taking place while looking at a picture depicting suicide is probably something my feeble American mind can’t comprehend. You French and your smart way of looking at things. Couldn’t you throw up a few sock puppets to spell out the meaning of this ending for us?! I don’t wanna think, thank you very much!
Nah, but seriously, this ending is ripe for the interpretation and left a big impact on me.
I won’t pretend to know if anyone is going to find this movie in theaters anymore, but if you do, do yourself a favor and see it. It really is a fantastic piece of cinema and deserves as much recognition as possible. It’s heartfelt, meaningful, beautifully shot, and wonderfully acted, culminating in a truly great story that I hope to see again in the future.
My honest rating for FRANTZ: 5/5