Words by Gabriele Niola
Photos by Alessio Costantino
Translation by Bianca Baroni
In collaboration with badtaste.it
It’s a thick tableau, a full trunk hidden by the reassuring image of the costume drama, which excels thanks to a great use of shapes and formulas from “other” cinema genres, starting from the soundtrack –that reminds of Hitchcock, at times-, built around a musical theme that recalls the Ode to Joy by Beethoven, in a minimal version which lacks of any comforting feeling.
In order to simplify what is impossible to resume in a review, we could say that Frantz wants to be a movie about lies, seen as the unique tool to relieve the devastation of the dying reality of Germany and France. Anna (plaudits to the fresh and composed performance of Paula Beer) and Adrien (an extraordinary Pierre Niney), the two main characters, are both marked by the death of the young Frantz (born German but his name literally means “French”): he was Anna’s partner and represented a shade of pain in Adrien’s past. They’re both in love with a ghost and they end up to sublimate their different sufferings in a situation of mutual understanding that seems to go beyond the boundaries of true or false, in order to reach the hard destination of forgiveness.
As we said, Frantz is a costume movie: yet, it would be reductive to restrict its forcefulness to the context in which Anna and Adrien’s story takes place. The historical portray is never didactic, instead it is made naked in advantage of the psychology of the protagonists: in a process that seems to be opposite to the one shown in The White Ribbon, in which Hanake pointed at the inner ugliness of men as the sign of the imminent Nazi arrival, Ozon seems to make an analysis on the cathartic power of the fictionalized narration, creating a parallel between the narrator-author and his protagonists as his cantors of fictional stories.
Adrien lies as Anna does, but a truth comes upon their lies: love. A love that, just like in the case of the French guy, comes through the eyes of an enemy and it’s on its corpse that he realized the tragedy of the war –and, probably, he realized aalso a sexuality often oriented to homosexuality, as Ozon implies (the scene of imagination of the violin lesson may represent the highest peak of eroticism of this Festival). Anna elaborates her grief for Frantz’s death only when she realizes to be in love with Adrien’s childish sad eyes; but even though she loses for the second time the man she loved, she doesn’t hope to die, but she is pushed to find her own life. A life that will be crossed by the windy road of lie once again.
In this sense, Ozon seems to suggest that lie is a necessary element not only in life, but also for the pursuit of happiness. It’s a difficult taboo, still unacceptable after more than 80 years later than the composition of the opera that is Frantz’s source (the theatrical piece L’homme qui j’ai tué by Maurice Rostand, one of the first who began to speak about homosexuality in his works). And so, here it is, Ozon’s courage: to show the elephant in the room, saying with no fake moralism that lying can make us feel good, because the greatest part of humanity is marked by the drama of slowness.
Anna and Adrien lie to their beloved ones –we can guess that even the final wedding could be a way to save his face since his mother had begun to suspect about his homosexuality-, in order to protect them, even though they lied to their sons, destining them to the mutual massacre: if from a blunt lie the only thing that could come from is death, from a white lie could even arise the will to live, as the last cynical but comforting scene of the movie implies, that acquits –apart from the Christian “ego te absolvo”, already arrived many minutes before- the liar Anna and together the whole humanity who’s constantly in search of new fables to survive.