Resentment, regret, longing and devastation color “Frantz,” a look at the bitter aftermath of World War I in Germany and France.
Frantz himself is a dead soldier, the son of Doktor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stotzner). Grieving alongside the doctor and his wife is Anna (Paula Beer), the young woman who was going to marry Frantz when he returned from the war.
Except he didn’t return. He was killed and buried in a mass grave on some far off battlefield. Even so, Anna tends to a substitute grave in the village cemetery, bringing flowers every day.
But one day she arrives at the grave to find fresh flowers already there. Apparently a mysterious Frenchman has left them. The following day Anna spies the Frenchman at the grave again, crying. Eventually the Frenchman comes to meet Doktor Hoffmeister, but the doctor throws him out, decrying all Frenchmen as murderers.
Anna hunts down the Frenchman, whose name is Adrien (Pierre Niney). He tells her he and Frantz were close friends in Paris before the war. She brings him home to talk with the doctor and his wife, to share stories of Frantz and their times in Paris. Adrien’s presence is healing, even if he’s obviously troubled and unstable.
But the Frenchman’s presence in a German town so soon after the war is a scandal, especially as Anna warms to him. Writer-director Francois Orzon captures the ghastly tension of the time in mostly black-and-white tones (the film looks like it was shot in the 1930s): To the Germans, all French people are the monsters who killed their sons, brothers, lovers. Of course, in France it’s the Germans who are monsters.
The truth about Adrien and Frantz emerges about halfway through the film, and Anna’s struggle with that truth, as well as with her own vision of the future fuel the rest of the story. This is not a time for happy or easy endings — two countries and two cultures have been stretched and shredded to frazzled, ragged ends. But “Frantz” offers a sympathetic, if dark, look at the awful wake of war, at the cost of institutional violence, as well as the cost of surviving.
Tom Long is a longtime culture critic.
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief war violence
Running time: 113 minutes