“It’s a bold director who decides to remake an Ernst Lubitsch film, but François Ozon’s choice of Broken Lullaby, one of the master’s least-known works and a drama to boot, probably seemed like a safe bet,” suggests Jay Weissberg in Variety. “This is the tale of a young Frenchman just after WWI, traveling to Germany to meet the parents and fiancée of a fallen soldier whom he says he knew in Paris, and it offers considerable emotional scope for Ozon’s pet themes, including the bonds of friendship and the idea of women coming into their own. Taken on these terms, Frantz plays like classic melodrama and has certain charms. However, Lubitsch was invested in making an antiwar film with a romance attached, whereas Ozon reverses the order and tacks on a completely new second half. The results are oddly more artificial than 1932 original, and considerably less moving.”
Dispatching to Little White Lies, Katherine McLaughlin sets it up for us: “Anna (Paula Beer) is in mourning for Frantz Hoffmeister who was killed in the war less than one month before it ended. Living with his parents she offers what comfort she can, but their loss is overwhelming. When a mysterious French stranger, Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) appears in town claiming to have known Frantz while he was studying in Paris, the family welcomes him in, ardently listening to splendid stories about their son. The truth is, Adrien is harboring a secret, but the mystery of what exactly it is isn’t revealed until the mid-way point, and Ozon, as ever, keeps his audience guessing.”
“Though there are a lot of firsts here for Ozon,” writes the Hollywood Reporter‘s Boyd van Hoeij, “this drama continues the director’s penchant for spinning thematically complex material into the highly accessible fare, just like in recent hits such as The New Girlfriend and In the House. It also continues the filmmaker’s long line of complex female heroines and explores many themes dear to Ozon, including mourning and the refuge fiction and/or art can offer in times of crisis. And as usual, the actors are all in fine form.”
“There is exactly one great sequence in Frantz,” argues TheWrap‘s Alonso Duralde, “and even though it’s a short scene, it creates an impact that suggests that it was the entire reason for the film’s existence. The rest of Frantz, unfortunately, is a mostly dreary and heavy-handed affair in which the director (who co-wrote with Philippe Piazzo, loosely adapting a play by Maurice Rostand) examines the damaging cost of nationalism and the toll that war takes on winners and losers, survivors and casualties alike.” That one scene, by the way, flips Casablanca‘s rendition of “La Marseillaise.”
But for Fabien Lemercier at Cineuropa, “Ozon, with formidable skill and consummate cinematic mastery, has chosen to weave a subtle and romantic melodrama that cunningly plays with our perception of reality.”
Premiering in Competition in Venice, Frantz is also screening at Telluride and San Sebastian and will be a Special Presentation in Toronto.
Update, 9/4: “It’s a heady hall of mirrors that keeps revealing, or at least suggesting new depths and angles,” writes Zhuo-Ning Su at the Film Stage. “But while this kind of intense creative exercise no doubt deserves respect, ultimately one has the uneasy sense that things don’t really add up.”
Update, 9/5: “Ozon captures much of the original movie’s strengths while broadening its themes, launching into richer territory with his most polished storytelling achievement since 2004’s Swimming Pool,” writes Indiewire‘s Eric Kohn. “While the entirety of Frantz holds less appeal than its gorgeous ingredients, it’s impossible to deny the sheer narrative sophistication that makes this gentle story much more than your average retread.”
Fabien Lemercier talks with Ozon for Cineuropa: “When I had the idea for Frantz, I didn’t know about Lubitsch’s film. I started off with a play by a French writer, Maurice Rostand… I started working on the writing and soon enough, I found out that the story had already been adapted for the big screen in the 1930s by Lubitsch. Initially, I thought to myself, ‘Okay, I’ll let it go, how can I follow Lubitsch?’ But when I watched Lubitsch’s film, I realized that his point of view was very different from the one I wanted to use. For me, it was very important to tell the story from the point of view of the Germans, from the point of view of those who lost the war, and from the point of view of this young German girl. So very quickly, I took it in a different direction.”
Update, 9/6: Writing for CinemaScope, Tommaso Tocci notes that “the original ultimately went for a synthesis of these two conflicting worlds, while Ozon doesn’t shy away from the brutal historical undercurrent of the material. In fact, Frantz deftly escapes the traps of its own limited premise by creating a mirror version of itself, like many of its own characters, do. Twin sections in Germany and France provide a satisfying symmetry to the film’s structure, and elaborate on the notion that the lies and gaps in a lover’s discourse are where things really get interesting.”
“Frantz is slightly over-polite and overly careful,” finds Time Out‘s, Dave Calhoun. “But the sense of festering postwar anger and pain is strong… Paula Beer’s performance as Anna is, without doubt, the film’s biggest strength: she’s a European talent to watch.”
Updates, 9/10: The Guardian‘s Nigel M. Smith finds that Frantz “lacks the cheeky humor that characterized his three most inspired hits (8 Women, Potiche and Sitcom), instead favoring the mournful tone of his drama Under the Sand. Still, Frantz feels like new territory for Ozon.”
Meantime, Paula Beer has won the Marcello Mastroianni Award, created in 1998 to acknowledge an emerging actor or actress.
Update, 9/16: “Ozon’s hand is assured and elegant throughout,” writes Nathaniel Rogers. “In fact, his queer gaze makes Frantz a more complex journey than it would have been with another director.”
Update, 9/24: “Following 2014’s campy and anachronistic Ruth Rendell rendition The New Girlfriend, the director presents one of his subtlest melodramas with post WWI period piece Frantz, a poker-faced slow burn of juxtapositions and handsome visuals,” writes Nicholas Bell for Ioncinema. “Headlined by recent Cesar winner Pierre Niney, this isn’t another male focal point a la the director’s underrated Time to Leave (2005), as Ozon graces us with a complex and captivating turn from newcomer Paula Beer with a performance which often transcends the narrative’s eventual simplicity.”
The 2016 fall film festival indexes: Venice, Telluride, and Toronto.