PLOT After World War I, a young German woman meets a mysterious Frenchman in her village.
CAST Paula Beer, Pierre Niney
RATED PG-13 (adult themes)
PLAYING AT Manhasset Cinemas; Malverne Cinema 4; and Cinema Arts Centre, Huntington. In French and German with English subtitles.
BOTTOM LINE Two fine performances and a few moments of subtle intrigue add up to a faint whisper of a movie.
François Ozon’s latest film, “Frantz,” is named for a character we barely see and never really know. He was a young man from Quedlinburg, a small German village, who died while serving in The Great War. One year after the war’s end, Frantz’s fiancee, Anna, visits his grave site and is surprised to find fresh flowers there. A stranger has come to town, Anna learns. What’s more, this stranger is French.
So begins the plot of “Frantz,” a Hitchcockian identity-mystery that takes place in a war-scarred German village. That backdrop is one of this movie’s most interesting features, and certainly the most topical. The village of Quedlinburg is rife with anti-French sentiment and wounded national pride, much of it incited by a local demagogue named Kreuz (Johann von Bülow). By contrast, Frantz’s father, Dr. Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner), spreads blame among the French and German elders alike who sent a young generation to war. “We are fathers who kill their children,” he says.
What does this have to do with the unwelcome stranger, Aiden (Pierre Niney, of “Yves Saint-Laurent”), and grief-stricken Anna (German newcomer Paula Beer)? Initially, they seem destined for a forbidden Montague-Capulet romance. Then again, whenever Aiden describes his friendship with Frantz (it seems they spent time in Paris before the war), what we see in flashbacks is decidedly homoerotic. One thing is clear: Aiden’s feelings about Frantz include a great deal of regret and possibly guilt.
Although this film’s lead actors are compelling — Beer has a quiet intensity, while Niney makes for a fragile, almost ethereal figure — the story begins to wander after Aiden reveals his secret. In its last act, “Frantz” becomes an almost sudsy drama driven by new characters who arrive far too late for us to really care about them. Shot in black and white with occasional forays into color, “Frantz” seems interested in the nature of secrets, lies, prejudice and the past, but what it says about them is never quite clear.