Frantz is part Hitchcock, part Sirk, and all twisty

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

RPL Film Theatre
May 4–7

Frantz is a deceptively simple tale of lies and forgiveness that trades on mirror images and the subversive idea that truth is — above all — self-serving.

The titular Frantz is a young German killed in the battlefront during WWI. By all accounts, Frantz was an art-loving, gentle soul who adored all things French, a detail that makes his killing by the Armée de Terre somewhat ironic.

Frantz’ death is a devastating blow to his parents and fiancée, Anna (Paula Beer). However, they refuse to simmer in resentment like the rest of the townsfolk. Their resolve is tested with the arrival of Adrien (Pierre Niney, Yves Saint Laurent), a Frenchman who claims to be an old acquaintance of Frantz. There’s something off about his story, but the thirst for memories of the departed supersedes any mistrust.

For the top half, director François Ozon (Swimming Pool) builds a clever, twisting story with plenty of pathos. Both Anna and Adrien are forced into situations they dislike, but the realization they could escape doesn’t cross their minds.

Frantz has to be Ozon’s most sophisticated film. On the surface, it’s equal parts Hitchcock and Sirk, a drama that sinks its teeth into you and never lets go. At a deeper level, the filmmaker speculates that it’s our differences that make us equal: Germany feels bitterness, France is wary and both take their anger on the visitors instead of looking critically at themselves.

The film has a third level of interpretation. Ostensibly a black-and-white picture, every so often Franz turns to color, Pleasantville style. My interpretation changed as the movie progressed. In the end, it seemed the characters’ intermittent will to live was ultimately responsible for the sporadic pigmentation, but your guess is as good as mine. ❧