Normally, I am not a big fan of black and white movies. But the fact that Frantz was made by acclaimed French director François Ozon still made me want to see it. After all, I loved his previous “character studies” in Swimming Pool (2003), Young & Beautiful (2013) or In the House (2012).
Here is why the story about an unlikely French-German friendship just after World War I didn’t disappoint either…
The Story: War, Peace and Love
It’s the year 1919 somewhere in a small-town in Germany: A young woman called Anna (Paula Beer) is grieving the death of her fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke). Frantz was sent off to war even though he was a pacifist at heart, more interested in music and fine art than any sort of fighting. But patriotic spirits were high during the first years of WW1 and so Frantz had reluctantly joined the army according to his father's wishes.
After the death of Frantz, Anna continues to live with her in-laws – Frantz' parents – whom she is very close to.
One day, Anna notices that a mysterious Frenchman called Adrien (Pierre Niney) has recently put fresh flowers on her fiancé's grave. Adrien tells Anna and Frantz' parents that he had befriended Frantz before the war in Paris. Back then, the two men apparently visited museums and played music together.
Thus, Adrien slowly gains the trust of both Anna and Frantz' parents. So much even that Anna fears she may even want more from Adrien – the Frenchman and enemy – than just a friendship.
The Location: Görliwood Calling!
Some scenes of Frantz were shot in France (for example at the Musée du Louvre). The majority of scenes was, however, filmed in Germany.
Director François Ozon chose the UNESCO World Heritage town of Quedlinburg as well as Wernigerode and Görlitz in East Germany to recreate the 1919 set for Frantz. "In contrast to West Germany, most towns in the former GDR are perfectly preserved from the pre-WW2 period,” he says.
The well-preserved town of Görlitz in Saxony is particularly popular with film production teams looking for authentic historical outdoor sets. In 2013, George Clooney filmed his WW2 drama The Monuments Men here. Other big screen productions that have been largely filmed in Görlitz include Quentin Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds (2009), Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), The Reader (2008) and The Book Thief (2013).
I also noticed that the film wasn't in fact a 100% in black and white. Ozon used colour for the flashbacks to the happier times before the war and generally all scenes of happiness and love. Aw…
The Performance: A French-German masterpiece
Newcomer Paula Beer (Anna) was only 20 years old at the time of filming, but to director Ozon there was already something very mature about her: The leading male role of Adrien was portrayed by French actor Pierre Niney, who had impressed me previously as the complex French fashion designer in the biopic Yves Saint Laurent (2014).
In Addition to learning his dialogues in German, Pierre also had to how to play the violin and how to dance a waltz! "It was a big challenge," he admits. "But Paula was a great help. She sent me recordings of my German dialogues every day. That was the best way to learn because Paula has a very soft voice and is a very talented actress. She really inspired me, especially since I was discovering a language that doesn't have the reputation of sounding particularly soft or melodic. In the end, I really loved my German scenes."
A little anecdote at the end: "The name 'Frantz' almost sounds like an echo of France," says Ozon. "In German, it's spelled without the 't'. It's a typical mistake of French speakers. But the Germans liked that, so I left it. I'd like to think that the art lover Franz added the 't' in order to express his love for France."
The final verdict:
Even though I initially found that the film lacked a bit of pace, I was soon hocked as to what would happen next. Overall, this was a truly mesmerizing drama with an unexpected twist after the first half!
**** 4 out of 5 stars