Heart of war

Loss and love in post-WWI Germany

Opens Friday, May 5. Starring Pierre Niney, Paula Beer and Anton von Lucke. Directed by Francois Ozon.Pageant Theatre. Rated PG-13.
Rated 4.0

Anna (Paula Beer) lives in the town of Quedlinburg, Germany, with the parents of her deceased fiancé, Frantz (Anton von Lucke), who died in battle during the final months of World War I. She makes regular visits to his grave site at the local cemetery, and one day she sees a haunted-looking stranger making repeated visits to that same site.

She soon speaks to the stranger, and learns that he is a Frenchman named Adrien Rivoire (Pierre Niney). Moreover, he claims to have formed a very strong friendship with Frantz during the latter’s sojourn in Paris. Their shared grief makes for a strong bond between Adrien and Anna, even as the local town fathers—including Frantz’s father, Doktor Hans Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner)—remain hostile to anyone and anything French.

Those early events seem to set Frantz up as a kind of parable about tolerance, forgiveness and recovery from the calamities of war. In the hands of writer-director Francois Ozon (Swimming Pool, 8 Women, etc.) it’s all of that and a good deal more. The intimations of an offbeat romantic triangle spin off in unexpected directions, and Anna and Adrien both find themselves variously caught up in an elaborate tangle of secrets and lies, especially those that seem to arise from good intentions and the impulse to heal.

Niney is an extraordinarily haunting presence in the role of Adrien, but Beer’s quietly robust amiability in the Anna role seems closer to being the film’s signature image. Marie Gruber (as Frantz’s mother), and Cyrielle Clair and Alice de Lencquesaing (as major figures in Adrien’s life in France) make important contributions to the film’s emotional intricacies.

Much of Frantz is filmed in a lush black and white, which seems right for the period and the subjects being portrayed. But Ozon introduces brief bursts of color cinematography for scenes in which the characters’ attention turns to artistic matters, including especially one particular painting by Manet.