Adrien (Pierre Niney), the mysterious stranger at the heart of François Ozon’s lavish period melodrama Frantz, harbours an all-consuming secret. The young Frenchman’s arrival in a small German town arouses intrigue and hostility among residents still processing the fallout of World War I. The plot thickens when local girl Anna (Paula Beer) spots Adrien leaving flowers on the grave of her late fiancé. Those familiar with Ozon’s back catalogue might think they know exactly where this is heading, but after a spot of wilful misdirection, it becomes apparent that this is an instance of the queer auteur playing it straight. By confiding in Anna, Adrien partially alleviates his own guilt, but makes his secret her cross to bear.
Loosely based on Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby, the film does a fine job of evoking the stiff formality and repressed emotion of a bygone era. But despite a nuanced central performance from Beer, the filmmaking is too mannered and meticulous to allow much of an emotional connection. Heavy-handed visual motifs and a syrupy string score push things further towards middlebrow mediocrity. Perhaps most damaging of all, it’s nigh-on impossible to watch this monochrome portrait of early-20th-century Germany without thinking back to Michael Haneke’s infinitely more daring The White Ribbon.
Frantz | Directed by François Ozon (France, Germany 2016) with Paula Beer, Pierre Niney. Starts September 29