Frantz (2016, France-Germany) ****

A historical drama, Franz was directed by François Ozon to a screenplay written by himself together with Philippe Piazzo. It is based on Broken Lullaby, a 1932 American film, directed by Ernst Lubitsch, which in turn was based on a play by Maurice Rostand. Franz tells the story of a German woman named Anna, beautifully portrayed by Paula Beer, who, in post-WWI Germany of 1919, while grieving Franz, her fiancé who perished in the Great War, is receiving a surprise visit by a Frenchman. The relationship between Anna, the Frenchman, the dead fiancé, as well as his parents, take center-stage. All this is happening to the backdrop of two countries still hostile, still healing from the wounds of war. While the story takes place almost a 100 years ago, one watching the film cannot avoid feeling how the topic is in fact contemporary; a reflection on the current socio-political and international tensions brought about by the Trump administration.
Here is what works in this film: the acting is quite superb. Paula Beer is simply brilliant in her subtleties. Franz will, without a doubt, place Beer on the map. Pierre Niney is excellent in his role as the visiting Frenchman. Franz’ parents shine in supporting roles. The production value as a period piece is excellent, and so is the camera work, editing and music. The story works on multiple layers – personal, social, anti-war; every part of it involving morals with emotions and even a little bit of religion. The mix almost works, which brings me to what doesn’t work in Franz. At times, the plot feels contrived. Too many ingredients can make an interesting salad into one whose flavors get lost. This is especially evident in the second part of the film, where the need to create symmetry, feels a bit artificial. Ultimately it is Beer who makes the film one notch better than it would have been otherwise. She is a marvel to watch.
All in all, Franz is a fine piece of filmmaking, albeit on the gloomy side.