Francois Ozon, director & co-script w/Philippe Piazzo
Starring: Paula Beer (Anna), Pierre Niney (Adrien), Ernst Stotzner (Doktor Hoffmeister), Marie Gruber (Magda Hoffmeister)
Back in 1932, the great German Jewish expatriate Hollywood director Ernst Lubitsch made three films: Trouble in Paradise, a universally praised romantic comedy about two thieves conning a perfume mogul; One Hour with You, a delightful musical starring the young and effervescent Maurice Chevalier and his last drama, Broken Lullaby, a pacifist film set in Germany right after World War One. Of the three, only Broken Lullaby did badly at the box-office and the film has rarely been revived since then.
Given the three films, which one would you assume French auteur Francois Ozon would choose to make a contemporary adaptation? Right. He chose Broken Lullaby, the film that ended the anti-war cycle started by the universally acclaimed All Quiet on the Western Front (1930).
Now titled Frantz but shot in black and white just like Lubitsch’s original, Ozon’s film follows the scenario of the 1932 drama for about two-thirds of the way. Both start off intriguingly. Adrien, a Frenchman shows up in a small German town, and places roses on a grave of a German soldier killed during the last months of the war. The grieving family—father, mother and orphaned fiancée—get over their initial suspicions and invite Adrien to dinner. Frantz was a Francophile and a violinist before the war; he had spent years in Paris. The family assumes that Adrien was one of his closest friends there. That impression is increased by the fact that Adrien is also a violinist and a diffident, poetic type just like Frantz.
Anna, the fiancée, begins to form a bond with Adrien. So, in their own ways, do Frau and Doktor Hoffmeister, the mourning parents. But Adrien finds it impossible to stay in Germany. The hatred against Frenchmen so soon after the War is overwhelming. And then, there’s Adrien’s dramatic secret. If he reveals his true relationship to Frantz, the Hoffmeisters will also be shocked and likely send him away.
At this point in the film, Anna is told Adrien’s secret, which she hides from Frantz’s family. The rest of Ozon’s film moves away from Lubitsch’s over-the-top melodrama and offers hope to both Anna and Adrien but not in the conventional romantic manner of 1932 and, indeed, today.
Broken Lullaby and Frantz are about a number of things: a hatred of war; a denunciation of xenophobia; a belief that culture can be a universal language that offers ways for people to reconcile differences. Above all, it’s about forgiveness.
When Lubitsch made his film, no one would have believed that the world was only seven years away from an another devastating global conflict. Who knows where we’ll be in seven years—or even in two? We can only hope that more people will espouse Ozon’s values as expressed in Frantz in the future. One thing is sure: it’s a film worth seeing.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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