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Black and white 'Frantz' is a moving study of forgiveness

POSTED: April 16, 2017 1:51 a.m.
Josh Terry/

Paula Beer in “Frantz.”

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“FRANTZ” — 3 stars — Pierre Niney, Paula Beer, Ernst Stötzner, Marie Gruber; PG-13 (thematic elements including brief war violence); Broadway

“Frantz” is a quiet drama that deals with the confusing aftermath of war. It is the story of a French World War I veteran who travels to Germany after the war to reconcile his experience.

The film opens in 1919 in the German village of Quedlinburg. A young woman named Anna (Paula Beer) is grieving the loss of her fiancé, Frantz (played in flashback by Anton von Lucke), who was killed in the war. Anna still lives with her would-be in-laws, Hans and Magda (Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber, respectfully) and makes regular visits to Frantz’s grave marker, though we learn later that he was buried in a common grave in France. A local man named Kreutz (Johann von Bülow) wishes to marry her, but she is still in mourning.

One day, Anna notices that she isn’t the only one leaving flowers at Frantz’s grave, and soon she discovers a quiet Frenchman named Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney) has been making regular visits. When Anna confronts him, Adrien tells her he knew Frantz before the war, and has come to honor their friendship.

Anna brings Adrien to meet Frantz’s parents, and after some initial hesitation, they open a tender friendship that offers some comfort and closure. Anna begins to spend time with Adrien, even going to a local dance together, but Hans suspects that there is more to the Frenchman’s story that he isn’t sharing.

The rest of that story won’t be revealed here, but it sends “Frantz” on a very different trajectory. After revealing the true purposes of his visit to Anna, Adrien goes home to France, and after their attempted correspondence falters, she heads to Paris to find him.

Director François Ozon’s effort maintains low-key artistic tone, with a subtle beauty that comes from his decision to film most of the story in black and white. From time to time, in flashback or other appropriate moments, “Frantz” shifts into a kind of unsaturated color, injecting a bit of life into its melancholy story.

Both Adrien and Anna love poetry and art, and a Manet painting called “The Suicide” holds their attention and captures their feelings of hope and desperation. “Frantz’s” story is sobering and thoughtful enough on its own, exploring the tension between such close and similar European neighbors during such a confusing time. But knowing that such tensions are going to burst into war again in less than 20 years makes the film even more resonant.

Beer and Niney do a good job of capturing the sorrows and pains their characters are dealing with, and the black and white treatment makes their pale faces seem almost ghostlike at times. “Frantz” is nearly two hours long, and has a deliberate, steady pace, yet it doesn’t drag.

With its subtle, artistic execution and poignant story, “Frantz” becomes a thoughtful reflection on the pain of war and the nature of forgiveness, even in the most extreme of circumstances. It’s also a tragic reminder of how love can transcend deep wounds.

“Frantz” is presented in German and French with English subtitles.

“Frantz” is rated PG-13 for thematic elements including brief war violence; running time: 113 minutes.
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