By Gary M. Kramer
Frantz, by gay French filmmaker François Ozon, is a black and white costume drama, set in 1919 Germany. A loose remake of the Ernst Lubitsch drama Broken Lullaby, this handsome romantic melodrama has Anna (Paula Beer) mourning her fiancé Frantz (Anton von Lucke), who was killed in the war. One day, she spies Adrien (Pierre Niney) at Frantz’s grave, and befriends him. When Adrien visits Frantz’s parents, Hans (Ernst Stötzner), and Magda (Marie Gruber), he recounts stories about their friendship. However, Adrien eventually reveals his relationship with the dead man to Anna, and the dynamic between them changes.
On the phone from New York, Ozon chatted with the San Francisco Bay Times about making Frantz.
Gary M. Kramer: What can you say about the challenges of making a period piece and shooting in Germany, and in black and white?
François Ozon: It was interesting. The black and white helped me a lot. It’s difficult to imagine period films in color. There are many documents and archives and that are in black and white. It was more realistic, and involves the audience more.
Gary M. Kramer: I like that the grayness reflects the characters’ moods. There are a few scenes in color, which are striking when they appear.
François Ozon: Yes, the period of mourning and death—black and white matched well with that. And I wanted emotional moments when the color comes back. These scenes were not always memories, but a fantasy or moments of happiness.
Gary M. Kramer: Frantz connects to your previous films Under the Sand in that it is a kind of “ghost story,” in which the dead man haunts the living. Can you discuss this theme in your work?
François Ozon: Yes, I think it is always interesting in films to speak about the dead and tell a story around a dead person. There is an idolization. You can imagine what you want about [Frantz]. Adrian and Anna and Frantz’s parents all have their own vision, and each has another point of view. They can project what you want on this character.
Gary M. Kramer: Frantz additionally connects to other films you’ve made, such as The New Girlfriend and Young and Beautiful, in that it portrays a young woman finding herself and her self-worth. Can you discuss the appeal of this theme in your work?
François Ozon: I love to identify myself to young girls. I don’t know why! I am an old man now. I think there is emotion on Anna’s journey. First, she’s a victim of a difficult period, and at the end she understands who Adrien and Frantz were. I like her evolution.
Gary M. Kramer: Can you talk about casting Paula Beer as Anna?
François Ozon: I didn’t know Paula. I met her at a casting session in Germany. I fell in love with her face and her maturity—she was only 20 years old. She was very emotional and clever, and had a beautiful face. She reminded me of Gene Tierney. I made a test with her and Pierre in Paris and the chemistry between them was perfect. They helped each other. He didn’t speak much German and she didn’t speak much French.
Gary M. Kramer: Speaking of German and French, art and poems and music seem to be the things that unite the characters across cultures.
François Ozon: Yes, it’s a theme of the film. Art can unite countries and people, and that’s why it was important for me to use the French and German [references] to show that the characters love music and painting, and are curious about the culture of another country. Anna knows Verlaine, and Adrien knows German literature. It [shows] how people understand and accept one another.
Gary M. Kramer: Frantz features characters keeping secrets and telling lies to protect others. How do you want viewers to judge your characters’ behavior?
François Ozon: I think it was interesting that this post-WWI period was one of transparency. Sometimes secrets and lies are helpful in a situation to support life. The lies that Adrien and Anna both tell are not the same. Sin is an important theme in the film. [For example] there is the scene when the priest and Anna talk, and she asks what should she do. The priest responds, ‘To protect people.’ After all this period of [war and] death, it’s very touching. The audiences can understand it.
Gary M. Kramer: The characters are all coping with tragedy and loss. What is your coping mechanism for dealing with a loss?
François Ozon: I make movies! [Laughs]. The best way to work, I think, is to make films. Films are therapy for me, a little bit. When you make a film with complex feelings, it’s a way to understand people, and it’s always complex how people react in front of death and pain and so many ways of mourning.
© 2017 Gary M. Kramer
Gary M. Kramer is the author of “Independent Queer Cinema: Reviews and Interviews,” and the co-editor of “Directory of World Cinema: Argentina.” Follow him on Twitter @garymkramer