Director: Francois Ozon
Stars: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney
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.
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.