The legendary Ernst Lubitsch is perhaps best known for his clever, sparkling comedies but in 1932 he directed a darker-themed melodrama, BROKEN LULLABY.  This has been remade by Francois Ozon this year as FRANTZ.


A deliberately designed old fashioned film shot in austere but elegant 35mm black and white, it commences in 1919 in the provincial German town of Quedlinberg, with 20,000 inhabitants, intact medieval structures and a veil of grief that hangs like a pall over the place following the loss of so many of its sons in the Great War.  Dr. Hans Hoffmeister and his wife Magda have lost their only son Frantz and their pain is almost exceeded by that of his fianceé Anna who now lives with them in a house that is more a mausoleum in its sense of dark mourning.  His body was never recovered and interred with many others on the battlefield, but every day Anna lays flowers upon an empty grave placed in his memory in the cemetery.


One day she is surprised to see another mourner standing weeping at the site, a tall Frenchman named Adrien.  It defies logic that he would travel to Germany, considering the simmering hostility and resentment following the war, and she assumes he must have been a close friend of Frantz from the pre-war era when Frantz lived and studied for a time in Paris.  While initially Dr. Hoffmeister refuses to have a Frenchman in his home, Anna intercedes and Adrien begins visiting regularly and his stories of the close friendship with Frantz, their love of music where both studied violin, visits to the Louvre and the like provide a form of comfort to the trio of mourners.  But Adrien’s grief is strange in that he is literally a tormented man, gaunt and quivering with pain and some unspoken need for forgiveness. He makes a dramatic revelation to Anna then leaves for Paris.


His departure causes Anna further anguish as she has developed feelings for him with their shared loss of Frantz and she travels to Paris where she makes surprising discoveries about Adrien, Frantz and herself.


The film examines many notions. The appalling cost of armed conflict on both victor and vanquished.  The need for forgiveness.  The dangers of nationalism and most strongly of all whether the relentless pursuit of truth is warranted when it will only bring hatred and hurt.  Is there a place for lies told with good intentions that can heal and provide comfort and peace?  FRANTZ says yes…very much so.


This richly imagined and artfully assembled production has a Mahler-inspired soundtrack that provides perfect background for what is a stately period piece initially and moves into a mystery with moral conundrums for it’s second half.  It is crisply photographed by Pascal Marti with occasional bursts of color at appropriate moments and the costume and production design are flawless.


Adrien played by Pierre Niney (who starred as Yves Saint Laurent in the recent biopic)  is a febrile, twitchy and neurotic dandy, highly strung and fey and Niney does some good work but the film belongs to Paula Beer as Anna.  A very attractive girl who is emerging as a highly accomplished actress.


Where Lubitsch’s film tended to make most things clear from the outset, Ozon prefers to keep his revelations in check.  Assumptions and expectations are reversed and things are not always what they seem.  The idea that a deception can be a positive thing and immensely kinder than a harsh reality that will serve no good purpose is interesting.  T.S. Eliot said “Humankind cannot bear very much reality”.


In scenarios such as this he may well have been right.








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