(English subtitles for German and French language spoken)
This is the sort of film that European film makers do so well, and the award-winning director Francois Ozon has turned out another gentle masterpiece. With a cast of actors who I neither knew nor recognised, and a romantic story about the aftermath of WW1 in both Germany and France, this captivating tale surprised me with its sheer quality, and drew me in completely.
1919, rural Germany. That country has just lost that long and bitter war. Reparations and humiliation by the allies have caused anger and resentment in those who survived, and the early seeds of the rise to Nazism have already been sown. In a small town, we see Anna, making her way to the cemetery to lay flowers on the grave of her fiance, Frantz. He was killed in action towards the end of hostilities, and she is heartborken.
She lives with Franz’s parents, Dr Hoffmeister the town doctor, and his kindly wife, Marie. Together they grieve for the young man who will never return, and who is not even buried in the grave where she lays the flowers. His body lies in an unmarked grave, somewhere in France.
Anna finds other fresh flowers on the grave, and asks the gravedigger who left them there. She is told it was a foreigner, and the next day she asks at the hotel, discovering a young Frenchman is staying there. She manages to meet Adrien, and asks if he was a friend of Frantz, who studied in Paris before the war. When he says he was, she invites him to come to the house to meet the Hoffmeisters, so he can tell them about their son. In an emotionally-charged meeting, Adrien relates how he befriended Frantz, and how they would visit art galleries together, sharing their love of Manet’s paintings. At first the elderly doctor is not interested, but later softens his attitude.
The three begin a few days of friendly relationship with the young Frenchman, much to the annoyance of the local men, who hate the fact he was a soldier. Especially Herr Kreutz, who is hoping to marry Anna, and is a leading light in the new nationalist party. Then one night at the cemetery, Adrien tells Anna his darkest secret, turning their relationship on its head. He leaves the next day, and Anna pretends that his mother was ill, and that he will return.
But when he doesn’t come back to visit, the old couple are worried, and they send Anna to France to find him.
This film just oozes class. Paula Beer as Anna and Pierre Niney as Adrien are perfectly matched on screen. Historical detail is faultless, and the supporting cast members all feel like real people. At times, it is so convincing, it feels as if it was made at the time it is set. Wonderful widescreen black and white photography suits the mood, with the unexpected use of colour segments to represent dreams, and imagined sequences in the story. It is just a delight to watch such a beautifully made film.
This is film-making at a very high level. I loved it. It is a gem!
The trailer. (British viewers may find this on BBC i-player. It was on BBC 4)