As he turns 50 this year, Parisian writer/director François Ozon is probably getting a bit old to continue being an enfant terrible, and many of his recent films (the psychodrama In The House, the sexy/pervy Young & Beautiful, the straightforward The New Girlfriend) have proven fairly unsatisfactory. Yet Frantz, his latest effort and a remake (something he would surely have refused to do 15 or 20 years ago), is his best work in ages, and just about his most beautiful and moving offering yet.
Drawn from Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby (1932), this opens in the town of Quedlinburg, Germany, in 1919 at the end of the First World War (and in black-and-white too). Anna (Paula Beer), a young woman who was to marry Frantz Hoffmeister (Anton von Lucke in flashbacks), is in a state of profound grief after his death at the Front, and she lives with Frantz’s sometimes despairing parents (Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber).
When Anna sees a mysterious man laying flowers on Frantz’s grave, she eventually learns that he is Frenchman Adrien (Pierre Niney), who is in emotional agony as he tells Anna and the Hoffmeisters about how he and Frantz were great friends and had wonderful times, like when they visited the Louvre (in scenes actually filmed therein that introduce an important painting by Manet).
However, there’s more to it than that, and while you might be expecting something, shall we say, bi-curious afoot given the naughty sexiness of Ozon’s previous movies, the twists and revelations, when they come, truly sting.
Featuring perfectly moving performances by an unfamiliar cast (only Niney is recognisable as the titular figure from the biopic Yves Saint Laurent) and tricks of light and colour that never feel gimmicky, this is one of the best films of the year so far. You’ll never have heard La Marseillaise sound so disturbing.
Rated PG. Frantz is in cinemas now