Review by Willard Manus

A young woman in a small German town spies a mysterious stranger visiting the grave-site of her fiancé, who died while fighting in WW I.

This is the opening sequence in FRANTZ, the latest feature by Francois (“The Swimming Pool”) Ozon. Shot mostly in black and white–only a few key scenes are in color–FRANTZ goes on to tell a story of love and forgiveness in a quiet, restrained way which is remarkably effective.

The young woman, Anna (Paula Beer), tracks down the stranger, who turns out to be a Frenchman named Adrien (Pierre Niney). “I knew your fiancé, Frantz, in Paris before the war,” he tells her. “We became good friends. I came here to pay my respect to him.”
Anna, who is living with Frantz’s parents, Hans (a doctor) and his wife Magda, is grateful to hear any news about her beloved Frantz but hesitates before inviting Adrien to visit her at home. The war is only just over and its impact is still felt deeply, particularly by those who lost sons in the conflict. With resentment and hatred of the enemy such a raw, palpable thing, Anna fears that her surrogate parents will treat Adrien with hatred and contempt.

That’s the case at first: Hans will not even speak to Adrien, leaving it up to Magda to deal with him. Gradually, though, things begin to change and Hans is able to accept Adrien for who he is, a decent young fellow who, like most other infantrymen on the front lines, was only fighting and killing because he had been ordered to do so by his superiors. Also, Hans can see that Adrien truly cared for Frantz and had shared many warm, carefree student days with him in Paris, playing music, visiting museums, and reading poetry together.

Adrien’s idyllic reminiscences of Frantz trigger feelings of love in Anna, but just as she is beginning to consider giving herself to him, Adrien has a kind of nervous breakdown. He collapses and, after recovering, announces that he must return to Paris. He departs without further explanation, leaving behind an address which proves to be out of date.

Anna decides to go to Paris in an attempt to find Adrien and solve the mystery of his strange, abrupt behavior. This she eventually does, only to be shocked by what she learns about him. The revelation tests everything she has felt about the need for forgiveness and compassion in those angry, xenophobic post-war days.

Ozon tells his powerful story in a masterful way, never over-stating things, letting the humanity of the tale carry the day. His expert direction is matched by the performances of his superb cast. The result is one of the finest foreign-language films in recent times.