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Frantz - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Directing: B
Acting: B+
Writing: A-
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B

Frantz is nowhere near as simple as it seems at first glance, or even for the first half or so of the story. This is one of those movies in which patience is a virtue, and very much pays off by the end, although anyone disinterested in "cinema as high art" might easily be turned off by it. It only seems like that, though; Frantz is actually more straightforward than that.

It's also plenty layered, mind you. It takes a few minutes even to notice the way director and co-writer François Ozon (Swimming Pool) plays with color here. Most of Frantz is in black and white, but it subtly switches over to color for all flashbacks, and also any time in the present that might temporarily take the characters away from their burdening grief.

The title character, as it happens, is dead -- barely seen even in flashbacks. It's the living characters surrounding him who make up the story now to be told: Adrien is the Frenchman visiting a German village in the immediate year after the end of World War I, predictably resented by the locals. He is found visiting Frantz's grave by Anna, who had been Frantz's fiancé. What is Adrien doing here, and how did he know Frantz?

That is the central mystery that propels maybe the first half of the story, its pace somewhat labored. I'm not convinced Ozon even intended for this, but it's easy for American -- or maybe just modern -- audiences to assume Adrien and Frantz must have been gay. Somewhat paradoxically, the truth is both simpler and less predictable than that -- and it also significantly complicates the relationship between Adrien and Anna.

Not only that, but Frantz's parents -- with whom Anna now lives -- also figure heavily into the mix, overcoming their own initial suspicions by getting to know this young man they're told was a close friend of their son. Once the truth of how Frantz and Adrien were connected is revealed, though, Anna is the one who takes on by far the greatest burden of any of the others, finding ways to protect both her parents and Adrien.

As Adrien visits Germany and then Anna finds herself in war-torn France, she takes on hard truths for the benefit of all but herself. In the end it's a very touching portrait of a woman giving of herself for the sake of both people who deserve it and people who maybe don't, and it's pretty heavy stuff.

I do have one unusual criticism of Frantz, which perhaps not many others would bother to mention: the sound editing. Much of Frantz is clearly over dubbed, from much of the dialogue to especially ambient sounds like footsteps on cobblestones. These techniques are exceedingly common in film, but here I found it especially noticeable and therefore distracting. It's very much to the credit of a tightly constructed script that I was eventually able to look beyond it.

By the end, all I could think was, Poor Anna. Whether this movie is a downer or uplifting depends on which character you're most regarding. It's a happy ending for everyone except the one person who knows all the pertinent truths, which have been doled out only selectively by her to the others.

Pierre Niney and Paula Beer have a deeply dark and complicated connection in FRANTZ.

Overall: B+
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