Tuesday, March 14, 2017

François Ozon's FRANTZ: an elegant, sad period piece from a masterful movie-maker


French filmmaker François Ozon has now made 18 full-length movies since his first one back in 1998 (roughly one per year) and at least as many short films, beginning in 1988. He has tackled a slew of genres -- fantasy, mystery, drama, comedy, satire, love story -- while some of his films jump and/or mash genres or simply create their own. He is consistently one of the most interesting and challenging filmmakers of our time, and I await each new work of his with pleasure and expectation. His latest to reach our shores, FRANTZ -- based upon an earlier movie by Ernst Lubitsch which itself was based upon a play by Maurice Rostand (son of Edmond) -- adds one more wonderful feather to M. Ozon's rather full cap.

Frantz is an exquisite, quietly beautiful period piece -- Ozon's third in this genre, I believe, after Angel and Potiche -- a near love story, as well as a soulful study of the after-effects of war on society at large, in this case that of Germany and France immediately after World War I. The filmmaker, shown above with the painting (Manet's The Suicide) that figures prominently in the movie, has given us a near-perfect production design (Michel Barthélémy) and art direction (Susanne Abel), costumes, sets and all the rest. The film was nominated for a slew of Césars but brought home only one (for the fine cinematography by Pascal Marti).

That cinematography is in mostly black-and-white, with occasional cuts to color as dictated by Ozon for emphasis on, well, perhaps happier moment/fantasies in the lives of these characters, or when the art of the movie captures some museum-level fine art. Whatever the motivation, the change from b/w to color and back works very well, most particularly at the film's quiet, moving and profound conclusion. The tale told is that of a grieving German family whose only son -- the titular Frantz --has been killed during the war. One day at the son's grave site, above, a strange young man appears who seems to be grieving, too.

The man, Adrien (played by Pierre Niney, above, of Yves Saint Laurent and other films) is French, and this fact is enough to outrage the German townspeople, especially the young man's father, played by Ernst Stötzner, below), even though Frantz's fiancee wants to know more about this stranger and his connection to her late and greatly lamented love.

The fiancee, Anna. is played by the lovely German actress Paula Beer (below), and as the film moves on it becomes more and more Anna's story, even though the mystery continues regarding just who Adrien really is and what his relationship with Frantz actually was. Anna. meanwhile, has become an integral part of Frantz's family, helping his parents through their grief, even as she tries to manage her own. Ms Beer proves exceptional, drawing us into her character and making us care deeply about what is going to happen, especially and finally to her.

Though M. Ozon maintains a stately pace, one's interest does not lag, and the filmmaker captures the time and place about as well as I have seen it yet done, without every unduly pushing for effect. This may be his most elegant movie to date, and it is certainly among his best. It is also among the stranger and sadder of love stories -- or near love stories, at least -- one in which lies told for the good of all concerned, along with behavior dictated by social mores and "keeping the peace," all work against the desires and well being of both protagonists.

M. Niney is exemplary, as is usually the case (his YSL movie was a rare misfire), and the rest of cast fill out their roles graciously and well. Along with its story of love lost and love unrequited, Frantz is also enormously anti-war, yet has but one single gunshot fired throughout. As is true in so many of Ozon's movies, the obvious and expected are not what carry the weight. It's those after-effects that linger longest and point up the real damage.

Frantz, from Music Box Films and running 116 minutes, opens tomorrow, March 15, in New York City at Film Forum and the Lincoln Plaza Cinema; in Los Angeles on Friday, March 24, at the Landmark NuArt. Here in South Florida look for the film to open all over the place on March 31: in Miami at the Coral Gables Art Cinema and the O Cinema; in Boca Raton at the Regal Shadowood and the Living Room Theaters, and at the Movies of Delray and Lake Worth. Over the weeks and months to come, the film will play all across the country. To find the theater nearest you, simply click here, then click on THEATERS on the task bar midway down your screen, and then keep scrolling down.

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