Love, loss, and war. It’d take you less than a minute of googling to find five masterful films that already cover those themes. It’s much harder to find a new film that can spin those ideas into a different ball of yarn. This is where Frantz surprises; it takes a seemingly standard post-war story and twists expectations – slightly but frequently – in order to find a fresh truth about what war, love and loss do to us.
The film follows Anna (Paula Beer) as she silently mourns the loss of her fiancé Frantz alongside her in-laws. Their hometown in Germany celebrates the end of The Great War, but under a cold shadow of grief cast by the people they’ve lost. When French stranger Adrien (Pierre Niney), considered an enemy on the battlefield, visits Frantz’s grave and explains their friendship to Anna, it knocks down the first domino to an emotionally complex line of thoughts and feelings.
Beer’s portrayal of Anna’s personalised grief is effortlessly on point. She is restrained, cautious, and stern in her emotional response to this tragedy, but that internalising stacks those feelings like a house of cards waiting for a whisper of wind to carry them away. That gust is Adrien, a man who’s clearly hiding something but is so nakedly saddened by Frantz’s death that you can’t deny his humanity.
The constantly gorgeous black-and-white photography amplifies small details, from the light that catches the stone cobble of the streets to the subtle way it emboldens Niney’s sorrowful eyes. Unfortunately, it’s interrupted by the film’s occasional use of colour. Though there’s a thematic decision behind this, the effect isn’t utilised all that much and comes off more distracting than poignant. Fortunately, this is the only fumble in an otherwise sturdy, stirring drama.