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With precision and a clear eye for emotional details, French director François Ozon perfectly captures the pain and disillusionment of the "Lost Generation" after World War I in the drama "Frantz."
We meet the title character at first only as a name on a grave marker. Frantz was a young German soldier, a reluctant enlistee, killed in the trenches of France. The marker at which his fiancée, Anna (Paula Beer), lays flowers isn't even where his remains rest his body, she says, is in a mass grave somewhere near where he died.
Anna lives in the German village where she and Frantz met. She lives with his parents, Hans (Ernst Stötzner), the town doctor, and Magda (Marie Gruber). She and Frantz planned to go to Paris, where he studied, after the war but those plans are just a dim memory.
One day, Anna sees a man laying flowers at Frantz's marker. She tracks him down and finds out he is Adrien (Pierre Niney), a Frenchman who claims to have known Frantz in Paris. Adrien is a gaunt, haunted figure who is eager to make connection with Frantz's family. After some resistance Hans believes that because a Frenchman killed his son, by extension every Frenchman had a hand in hi death Adrien is allowed to visit the family.
Hans and Magda devour Adrien's stories of taking Frantz to the Louvre and other Paris spots. Magda remarks that Adrien, though taller and thinner, has the same emotional bearing as their son and wonders aloud if Adrien and Anna might become a couple. This pairing seems more desirable to Anna than the local talent, like the local German nationalist, Herr Kreutz (Johann von Bülow), who has asked her for her hand repeatedly.
Ozon and co-screenwriter Philippe Piazzo, adapting Ernest Lubitsch's 1932 melodrama "Broken Lullaby," create a quietly moving drama of people who find they cannot move on after Frantz's wartime death a microcosm of the millions of young Europeans and Americans who were left bereft and disillusioned from the battlefield horrors they had encountered.
Ozon depicts Frantz's German village in stark black and white, as if the grief over his death has drained the color out of his family's lives. Color footage is deployed for flashback scenes, of Frantz and Adrien in happier times, and in fleeting moments of joy such as when Anna and Adrien play music together.
Niney, who played the designer Yves Saint Laurent in a 2014 biopic, brings a fragile grace to Adrien's grief and remorse. But it's Beer, a breakout star at 21, who gives a breathtaking performance as a young woman slowly realizing she can live the life that war had seemingly taken from her. Her subtle fire gives "Frantz" an inner warmth that transcends its cool black-and-white imagery.
A young woman meets a man with a connection to her soldier fiancé, killed in World War I, in this moving drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens Friday, April 14.
Rating • PG-13 for thematic elements including brief war violence.
Running time • 113 minutes; in German and French, with subtitles.