Tuesday, May 2, 2017


This afternoon I saw Frantz, Francois Ozon's film set in the mournful aftermath of the First World War, apparently inspired by Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 drama Broken Lullaby. It features a young German woman, Anna, mourning her fiance Frantz, who died in the war, and who now lives with his grieving parents, and an aristocratic French war veteran, Adrien, who mysteriously appears in their German town and claims he had been friends with Frantz before the war. (Watching it I was reminded of a another film, Francois Truffaut's Jules and Jim, which, while very different, also dealt with friendship and a romantic love triangle all impacted by the seemingly all-encompassing tragedy of World War I.)

The gruesome (and pointless) tragedy of the Great War, in which neighbors who had learned each other's language and appreciated each other's culture were forced to fight and kill each other is brought home in a low-key but obvious way. The bitterness remains strong - on both sides. We see Germans defiantly singing Die Wacht am Rhein and their French opposite numbers equally defiantly singing La Marseillaise, and when Anna finally travels to France we get a glimpse of the devastation wrought by the conflict on the French countryside. But that is all background to the even more painful reality of overwhelming grief, commonly experienced by families on both sides of the border. Within their grief, Anna and her wonderful would-be in-laws discover an amazing capacity for reconciliation and, in Anna's case, authentic forgiveness (sensitively encouraged by her confessor in one critical scene). And, since modern audiences are probably expecting and anticipating it, it does not reveal too much to suggest that Anna tentatively rediscovers love. 

Unfortunately, not all is as it seems. The film forces the audience to ask: can forgiveness and reconciliation be fostered by a lie - or does the lie ultimately diminish everything it seems to enable?

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