Frantz is the latest film from French director Francois Ozon; a sombre period drama shot in succulent black and white set in the aftermath of World War I. A French soldier, Adrien (Pierre Niney), places flowers on the grave of German soldier Frantz (Anton von Lucke) the deceased husband of Anna (Paula Beer) which begins a moralistic story of bereavement and forgiveness wrapped in notions of the time’s racism and paranoia in Germany. Adrien is the perfect stranger, with mystery surrounding his true memories and intentions towards his affection and affiliation for Frantz and ultimately Anna.
The film proves its cinematography accolades to be deserving throughout; it is emblazoned at the beginning of the film before its titles. Similarities to the elegance of Michale Haneke’s The White Ribbon (2009) and the work of esteemed cinematographers Gianni Di Vinanzo and Robbie Müller pervade. Where some films set themselves up to lose credibility for substance with an assumption of superficiality when touted for visual or technical proficiency and brilliance, Frantz is anything but shallow within its crafted characters and deep humanistic themes. There’s a delicate measured pace to the performances, like a tender poem being read with sincerity, watery-eyed and despite its sadness there’s actually a number of laughs in there too.
There is such quiet in the film; the sound of nature, the wind, trees and leaves – a trademark Ozon emptiness in the soundscape reminiscent of Swimming Pool (2003) is here. Ozon is a master at bringing distinct attention to this, filling the vacuum with subtlety making the sound apparent seem like silence. A major element to the film is its use of, and lack of, colour. A statement at the beginning with the image going from saturation into black and white teases that this will be a feature. The colour of course symbolises something but audiences should simply digest it as a sensory experience and not one necessary for analysis. The transitions back into colour saturation from monochrome feel oddly exposing to the ‘lie’ of cinema we’re taking part in and our window into the past. It is less natural than the black and white here, similar to “coloured” photos whose original states are changed from sepia into something modern the onlooker can relate to. The stripping of colour allows us to open ourselves to the moral clarity of the story, it’s bareness and lacking of warmth; Ozon’s measured controlled hand over his film craft.
It may be seen as a cliché but the film is an excellent story of life, death and everything between. At the backdrop of its more serious notions, Frantz ignites nostalgia in cinema’s simplest and most beautiful visual form, a dance of light and shadow. It delivers a modern message of hope within its self-inflicted innocence of the time and on the dilemmas of today.