Here is an anti-war film with a difference. “Frantz” (directed by Francois Ozon) is a French/German co-production, and made in both languages. The setting is a year after the end of World War One, 1919. We are in a small German town, where Anna is living with the parents of Frantz, Herr and Frau Hofmeister. (the meaning of their name – master of Hope). The Hofmeisters and Anna are grieving, and they are not the only ones. Anna’s fiancée Frantz, died, and was buried in France somewhere. There is also a sign-post in the film’s title – Frantz/France….. the lost victims of both nations, are equal and innocent, and the tragedy is shared by both these young men…. Adrien and Frantz, the living and the dead. They are both the same.
In both countries, there are vast numbers of people who have the same grief for a son, brother, fiancée, friend….. No-one is spared after such a catastrophic war, between countries which had been neighbours who spoke one-another’s languages and could never imagine such a chasm could open up between them. That era was profoundly different from modern times, when royalties still ruled over empires. It was the War that changed Europe forever. The royal dynasties were swept away… but this war was an “old fashioned” war when people were still innocent and trusted and admired their royal rulers… and were encouraged to support their Empire building wars. Fathers encouraged their sons to defend their Fatherland/Motherlands, and innocent young men in their millions died.
When the Second World War came along, there was a clearly visibly evil, fanatical Nazi passion led by a driven man, who wanted to create a new kind of Empire.
Anyway, back to the film “Frantz” while bearing in mind, the above.
It’s worthwhile seeing, for its profound examination of the aftermath, the trauma left in the lives of those still lucky enough to be alive. Those who have lost loved-ones, and who are still bewildered by what it was all really about. All they know is their personal tragedy. They have the temptation to hate the other side, when actually that “other side”/enemy were just as much victims as they were.
There are different ways of coping, and it’s interesting that Francois Ozon’s screenplay demonstrates that lies are OK too, that is, if they are germinated in a pure impulse, in a heart wishing to spare already devastated people from further pain — or from having to bear more than is possible for them.
It’s not really an option to describe the story of this film without committing the film-writing sin of including “a spoiler” — so I won’t do that.
We all know by now that Francois Ozon is a highly skilled film director, so it must be a well above average film. He handles this deeply sensitive material , with a subtle touch. It is almost entirely in black and white, with just a few scenes in muted colour, which depict some rare moments of true happiness. Things are more than a bit ambiguous most of the time between the protagonists, although we the audience are let in on some secrets that not all of them know. This is coming from the strong theme of when it might be OK to lie. It is not always a sin. It is not always wrong.
Performances are all faultless, and the depiction of 1919, the era, and the mood between the two neighboring nations, still adjusting to the trauma of recent war, is communicated without being too obvious. Ozon trusts his audience to get the message – and we do.
It is not just a story about the past. It’s a warning for today. There are no winners in war. War is to be avoided at all costs. The innocent always suffer and die. Those left behind spend the rest of their lives struggling with the consequences. The other warning is about believing the propaganda, and innocently going off to war “for the glory of your country”. It is not always like that.
In these modern times, young men are fighting in wars, in places they formerly might not have been able to find on a map – in countries that do not threaten their own homeland in any way. But politicians at home still speak about “fighting in defence of their nation” at their funerals!
The message here, is beware of the lies. In the First World War too, millions of young men who enlisted voluntarily, and died in hell never knowing why. Many wars are not about defending your country, or your way of life. They are about power and profit… control of resources, or grabbing of territory.
Francois Ozon is telling us a message to bear in mind today, through a story of times one hundred years ago.
Copyright , Cynthia Webb, May 2017
Poster photo: courtesy of the film producers