The immensely popular French auteur Francois Ozon came to the ongoing Venice Film Festival this year with his post-World War I romantic saga -- Frantz -- told through black and white images. The early word on the movie was encouraging, and seemed to have clinched a good number of stars from the critics here.
The Yves Saint Laurent star, Pierre Niney, plays a disturbed French soldier, Adrien -- who journeys to a provincial German town -- which is still extremely hostile to the Allies -- to lay flowers on the grave of a 24-year-old soldier, Frantz. A German, he had died in the trenches fighting French forces.
Adrien’s presence perplexes Frantz’s grieving fiance, Anna, (German newcomer Paula Beer) and also gets the whole town, unable to get over German defeat and casualties in the war, angered.
Franz turns out to be a sentimental love story about Adrien and Anna, and how they pass through a set of lies and deceits.
Ozon told Variety just before the festival started: “There are lots of French films set against the backdrop of World War I, but they’re always from a French point of view. I thought it would be interesting to show what was happening in Germany, the sense of humiliation amongst its people linked to their defeat and the terms of the Treaty of Versailles as well as the rise of nationalism which would lead to the Second World War.”
Ozon also felt that many things that were happening in Europe today, including Brexit, resonated with the post-WWI period. The rise, once again of nationalism, the return of borders and so on.
Director Francois Ozon told the press in Venice that a lot of French films have been set against the backdrop of World War I, but they’re always from a French point of view. Hence, he decided to look at it from the German perspective.
He added that he chose to make Frantz in black and white to highlight those times in Germany, which was a period of intense mourning and frustration.
The lack of colour adds to the sombreness of the story in which Anna is determined not to forget Frantz, and even begins to live with his parents in the German town of Oldenburg. Till Adrien arrives, and it transpires that he had met Frantz in Paris just before the war broke out. Paris is also dear to Anna, who had spent studying there and met Frantz.
One of the high points of the movie is Ozon’s effortless way of keeping melodrama out of his narrative, and he tells us how political and personal questions can be effectively examined within a moral framework. Yes, the basic premise of Frantz is a huge lie. But this lie is pretty indeed.
Watch the trailer of Frantz here:
(Gautaman Bhaskaran is covering the Venice Film Festival.)