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Frantz

Year: 2016
Production Co: Mandarin Films
Director: François Ozon
Writer: François Ozon/Philippe Piazzo/Ernst Lubitsch
Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney

All right, I'll admit I watched this movie because François Ozon is one of those Gallic directors whose primary thematic interests usually include French girls in their teens or early 20s with few inhibitions.

But Frantz is completely different from the rest of his work, and that might disappoint some viewers. All jokes about nymphettes in swimsuits aside, his movies (Swimming Pool, Young and Beautiful, the sublime 5x2) are usually about love and sex and their effects and fallout.

Not so here. Anna (Paula Beer) lives with the kindly German parents of her fiance Frantz after his death on the battlefields of World War I – they've taken her in and made her family, helping her heal as she takes flowers to Frantz's empty grave.

One day she notices a dark, nervous-looking man visiting the grave as she enters the cemetery, and after asking around in town and eventually meeting him, the young Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) claims to have been a friends of Frantz's even though the pair were on opposing sides of the war.

But all the while Anna starts to fall for Adrien, he becomes even more skittish and sad, harbouring a terrible secret about his relationship to her dead husband-to-be (one you'll guess before the flashback scene that reveals it, truth be told).

As Frantz's parents try to accept Adrien into their lives and he faces prejudice from the townspeople because he's from one of the very countries Germany was just defeated by, he and Anna embark on a shy, stumbling friendship that might just turn into something more.

The period detail is exceptional and there are a few interesting visual flourishes – it's entirely in black and white but at a few points where Anna starts to feel her heart filling up with emotion again colour washes into the picture and gives it new life, slowly leaching out again as she remembers her circumstances and who Adrien is.

It's also a worthy story for a drama, it's just kind of slow moving and fusty and unfortunately Ozon's oeuvre overshadows your expectations and you're forever waiting for something more sensual and racy to happen.

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