I find it something of an annoyance that I am unable to watch more foreign language films in the cinema. Over the past year, I have only been able to see 4 films not in English in the cinema and, whenever I can, I try to broaden my horizons. So, when I heard about Frantz, especially considering the subject matter, I wanted to see it, and thankfully I was able to, and I have to say this is a film that is definitely worth seeing in the cinema.
The film focuses on Anna, a young woman living in post-World War 1 Germany, whose fiancee, Frantz, died during the war. One day, Anna sees a mysterious Frenchman visit the grave. The man, Adrien, later visit Anna and Frantz’ parents, claiming to be a friend of Frantz’ from before the war, however, there is something about Adrien’s story that he is hiding from Anna. Now there are a lot of great elements of mystery in the film when we see the interactions between Anna and Adrien in Germany due to some of the holes in Adrien’s story, as well as why he came to Germany in the first place, but what I want to talk about more are some of the themes in the film, in particular the nationalism at play. Throughout the scenes in Germany, we see many of the villagers react with disgust to Adrien’s mere presence, through a mixture of anger with the French due to the deaths of people from the village during the war, along with resentment over Germany losing the war, with some people unable to come to terms with the fact that Germany surrendered. This nature of the people even extends to goods in the shops being identified as German, even though they are French, to avoid being boycotted, with the attitudes of everyone in the village helping to explain the attitude that led to the rise of Hitler. This sense of nationalism is also seen later on in the film in scenes where Anna goes to France, with Anna being given looks of disgust on the train when the other passengers reveal she’s German. Most effectively, there is a scene where Anna is in a cafe when a group of soldiers walk in, and all of the other patrons sing La Marseillaise, in a direct parallel to earlier in the film when a group of people in a German bar start singing the German national anthem. There are also interesting elements concerning the power of comforting lies, the way in which nostalgia can cloud memories and create unrealistic expectations and how embellishment of certain ideas can be comforting.
Performance wise, Paula Beer is the main standout of the film as Anna. The way in which she reacts to the appearance of Adrien in the village feels believable, as is her overall demeanor following the death of Frantz in the war, but it’s in the second half of the film where Beer shines. I won’t spoil it here, but Beer has to do a very careful balancing act regarding the true nature of Adrien and how it relates to Frantz’ parents, especially in the scenes where Anna goes to France. An incredible performance is also seen from Pierre Niney as Adrien. I can’t really go into much detail here as it would spoil the film but I will say that Niney gives a very sympathetic performance, alongside showing that Adrien is clearly hiding something, and there is some great depth for the character in the second half of the film. Strong performances are also seen from Ernst Stönzer as Frantz’ dad, effectively showing his transition away from blaming all Frenchmen for the death of his son, and Marie Gruber as Frantz’ mum, who is overcome with joy over being able to relive moments with her son through Adrien.
On a technical level, Frantz is very impressive. The production and costume design does a stellar job of evoking the feel of Germany and France in 1919, showing indications of how the war impacted the areas, with the costume design for Anna in particular helping to convey her character development effectively. The main area where the film succeeds technically though is with its cinematography and use of colour. Most of the film is in black and white but, for a few moments, the film transitions into full colour to reflect an increase in the tenderness of the film. The way this transition from black and white to colour is handled is excellent, the gradual nature of it reflecting how the positive emotions of the characters are coming to the surface and the contrast between the black and white and colour scenes does a great job at putting you in the mindset of the characters. What also works is how sudden the transition back to black and white is. Whilst the transitions to colour are gradual, the shift back is a sudden cut whenever the tenderness of a scene is broken by the reality of the situation around them and the overall nature of the characters. This is also a reason why I think the scenes in France don’t work quite as well as the scenes in Germany as, whilst staying in black and white for this part of the film does a good job at highlighting the damage the war did in France, as well as showing how the idealised nature of Frantz’ time in Paris pre-war has been destroyed, there are a few moments where the transition into colour would have helped make some scenes more powerful but, following Anna arriving in Paris, it’s only at the very end of the film that this technique is repeated again.
Overall, Frantz is a very powerful and thought provoking film looking both at the way in which people can be brought together through grief, as represented through Anna and Adrien, aided by excellent chemistry between Beer and Niney, as well as the wider damage that war can do to society beyond the physical destruction. Ideas of the comforting lie are effectively utilised and the excellent cinematography, particularly the use of colour, adds to the whole theme of nostalgia and comfort. The scenes in Paris aren’t quite as strong as the scenes in Germany, but this is still a very effective film.
My Rating: 4.5/5