Monday, May 08, 2017

Frantz (2017)

Film: Frantz (2017)
Stars: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stotzner, Marie Gruber
Director: Francois Ozon
Oscar History: No nominations
Snap Judgment Ranking: 3/5 stars

We will continue the end to my long sabbatical from the blog with our first review in eons, and of the last movie I managed to catch in theaters before I took my unfortunate break from the pictures (which I will be correcting as soon as possible).  It was an interesting, and oftentimes frustrating film to end on because it was one of those movies that had so much raw potential that, quite frankly, it's hard to tell whether the film itself was a missed opportunity or simply a good movie that could have been a great one.  I frequently find myself debating that quandary with myself, so let's talk it through and see where I land, shall we?

(Spoilers Ahead) The film takes place following World War I in the German countryside, where a young widow Anna (Beer) lives with the parents of her late husband, who was killed in the war.  One day, a mysterious man Adrian (Niney) comes along and is mourning the late soldier, Frantz, and frequently coming to his gravestone.  The film progresses with him becoming friendly with the family, all struggling in their own way to picture their lives without the beloved, late Frantz.  Initially the father (Stotzner) cannot handle having a Frenchman in his midst, but slowly he learns to love him because he can replace their son in a superficial way, giving them stories they didn't know the answer to and acting as a surrogate for playing the violin or romancing the young woman in their house.  The film flips a switch when it's revealed that Adrian came not because he was a friend of Frantz's, but instead because he had killed him in the battlefield and is stricken by grief.  The movie progresses with him telling Anna this, and then Anna trying to pursue him in hopes of the love she has for him transforming into something more lasting.

The movie has a lot of promise, and the first half, while not as audacious as one would normally expect from Ozon, is nonetheless intriguing and filled with question.  The movie's great handicap is that it's very clear early on that Adrian is hiding more than he says (Niney's performance choices betray that secret constantly, to the point where you wonder why Anna doesn't suspect him of deceit earlier in the picture).  It becomes obvious that he and Frantz were either lovers, or that he killed him in battle; in the end, we find out it's the latter.

The problem here is that Niney's performance has been leading us to the former-his tales of Frantz before the war clearly are meant as a type of subterfuge for Ozon fans who assume that there will be a gay element to the film.  It's certainly a twist in that regard, but so much of Niney's work as Adrian seems to hinge on him having been in love with Frantz, that the last half of the film you feel cheated out of a better movie.  Anna pursuing him rather than staying devoted to Frantz seems like a complete change in her core beliefs as a character, and nothing in the script really changes that, and with her riding off to Paris, we also get the more interesting, complicated questions surrounding Frantz's parents, both people who seem like they will never be able to move past the moment their son died, and are thus stuck forever in a sort of "don't talk about the problem" routine.

As a result, we get a messy movie with some beautiful cinematography.  The shifts from color to black-and-white are gorgeous and I loved the use of a Manet painting as a haunting reminder of what might come (Le Suicide, a pretty opaque metaphor for an action all four of our main characters clearly had considered in the wake of Frantz's death, albeit for different reasons).  There's a magnificent scene late in the movie where the famed "Le Marseillaise" sequence in Casablanca is inverted, proving that patriotism can just as easily turn into blood-lust with a simple change in settings (the movie may be worth seeing simply because of this scene and the sun-soaked photography Pascal Marti brings to Paris).  Overall, though, I left feeling frustrated.  I suppose this is a good movie, but it could have been a wonderful and meaningful one if they had either not given us a huge dose of Celluloid Closet or made the titular character gay.

Those are my thoughts-how about yours?  Did you have conflicted feelings about Fratnz as well, or were you more straight-forward?  Is this the best cinematography so far this year?  What other Ozon films should I get myself to (I'm relatively new to his filmography)?  Share below!

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