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New indies to see this weekend: 'Frantz' and 'After the Storm'

The latest from two international masters —"Swimming Pool"'s Francois Ozon and Japan's Hirokazu Koreeda —are worth your while.

Frantz

In Francois Ozon's new "Frantz," Pierre Niney plays a French ex-solider who tries Music Box Films

‘Frantz’
Director:
Francois Ozon
Stars: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney
Rating: PG-13
3 (out of 5) Globes

Back in the day, Francois Ozon (“Swimming Pool,” “8 Women”) was the badboy of French cinema. Age has a habit of chilling one out, and so it has for him, too. The 40-something Ozon has settled into a comfortable groove, cranking out films like “Young & BeautifuL and “The New Girlfriend,” which tackle tricky subjects with grace and quiet complexity. So it goes with “Frantz.” Pierre Niney (“Yves Saint Laurent,” the more staid of the two recent YSL biopics) plays a young, earnest Frenchman who worms his way into the life of a German couple, claiming to have been friends with their son, who was killed in World War I. As his visits increase — and as he gets closer with the man’s grieving girlfriend (Paula Beer) — it becomes clear he’s not being entirely honest.

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Shot in inky digital black-and-white, with the occasional transcendent color interlude, it’s a soothing melodrama, almost classical in its way. (The source, a play by Maurice Rostand, was also adapted by Ernst Lubitsch in 1932’s “Broken Lullaby,” featuring Lionel Barrymore as the patriarch.) Ozon knows how to lull you into a trance, all the better to shock you with trenchant commentary on nationalism, self-delusion and the (occasional) importance of lies. As he did in 2012’s “In the House,” he plays with fiction, creating flashbacks that we soon learn to distrust, even as we see their healing powers. It all falls apart in the end, as Ozons sometimes do, but as usual the middle section is tops.

‘After the Storm’
Director:
Hirokazu Koreeda
Stars:Hiroshi Abe, Kirin Kiki
Rating:NR
4 (out of 5) Globes

Hirokazu Koreeda isn’t a consistently excellent director, but his films are consistently serene, thoughtful, melancholy yet hopeful. “After the Storm,” his latest, is all of these things, yet it revolves around a protagonist who is none of them. Hiroshi Abe plays Ryota, a never-was novelist and a serial screw-up. He has an ex-wife and a young son he never sees. He works as a private detective, a job he initially took as research for his next book but which has quietly become his new, actual profession. He lives in an apartment the size of a bathroom, and his pittance of a salary tends to funnel directly to the local racetrack. He’s sweaty and desperate, and Abe — who often plays strapping heroes in blockbusters, including “Godzilla 2000” back in the day — has a pathetic, hangdog look that doesn’t look faked.

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Abe’s Ryota adds a nervous energy to Koreeda’s typically chill approach, where unhurried (but never ostentatiously unhurried) shots are met with plaintive, sad music and a keen understanding of people going through the thick of it. The first half details Ryota’s hectic life, piling one misery upon another — a way of life he’s so used to it never stops him dead. By the second, Ryota and the major players have holed down in the quaint apartment of his mother (a very funny/sage Kirin Kiki), sitting out the city’s 24th typhoon.

Like most things in “After the Storm,” the inclement weather is a metaphor: for the constant, bearable turmoil in Ryota’s life, for his feeling of cosmic insignificance. As things turn semi-theatrical, epiphanies are had by all. But they tend to be little ones — more like a grudging acceptance that life, for all involved, didn’t turn out as splendidly as they had hoped. The characters, Ryota most of all, won’t magically change once the storm lifts, but they will find a way to eke by with their considerable limitations. It’s a movie for anyone who hasn’t figured life out yet, and somehow it’s beautiful, not a bring-down.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge

 

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