Cinematographer Pascal Marti gives us cobblestoned markets, highly romantic lake scenes, and 1918 postwar strivings that are uplifting and haunting. A cemetery, a parlor, and a bar are reoccurring sites that are exquisitely filmed in gradations of gray. If the images and the story are lovely, this period piece is even more elevated by the acting of Paula Beer. Director Francois Ozon has centered his film on her, the German female protagonist, rather than the French soldier, Adrian ( Pierre Niney) , who attempts to gain solace as he claims to have been close school friends with her dead fiancé, Frantz Hoffmeister.

The source material for “Frantz” is the play, ” The Man I Killed”, by Maurice Rostand ( 1891-1968 ). In 1932, director Ernst  Lubitsch adapted  the story in his film ” Broken Lullaby”, starring Lionel Barrymore. Eighty years later, writer -director Francois Ozon collaborates with writer Philippe Piazzo using the same Rostand tale. Ozon films an anti-war themed romance that shows that forgiveness is more important as a virtue than nationalism.

We are in the small German town of Quedlinburg in the cradle of the German Reich. In the Bode River Valley, with the Harz Mountains to the South, Quedlinburg is one of the best preserved medieval and Renaissance towns in Europe. Marti makes good use of his lens in capturing the ancient facades of Abbey and stonework. Black and white with alternating color frames are used. Some flashbacks are in color, but I saw no pattern kept. Stark black and white and muted tints fade and bleed into each other, like the psychological scars of war.

Beer, only twenty-two, is stunning as the would-have-been bride, Anna.  She lives with her would-have-been in-laws as they all grieve their fallen soldier. A year has passed, and Anna is in resigned peace, more then emotional turmoil. She visits Frantz’s grave daily and leaves fresh flowers. She strides down cobblestoned streets with the clomp of a soldier herself.

Ozon, who has done erotic thrillers like ” The Swimming Pool” ( 2005) with Charlotte Rampling, takes a tender, Truffaut-like stubbornness to the screen here. Anna reminds me of his ” Adele H”, ready to sacrifice all for her man~ even one that may not be worthy of her. Edouard Manet’s painting ” Le Suicide”, will have a different reason to be included in ” Frantz”.

Anna has quit her studies and lost her will, yet she is self-possessed enough to use a sharp tongue toward Mr.Kreutz, an intrepid suitor. When Adrian regales her and Frantz’s parents with “stories from Paris”, he brings some comfort. In his hotel room mirror, he sees himself as Frantz.

Anna takes Adrian to the river bank where Frantz proposed. In a sensual scene Adrian stripes to his underwear and swims. Anna sees the scars of a wound on his stomach, and hears him say that his only wound is Frantz. Anna reads Adrian Frantz’s last letter to her, and the two silently reflect on the dead Frantz.  At this point in the film, I thought that Adrian may have been gay. As she reads her fiancé’ s description of a ” sea of corpses”, Adrian abruptly says he must go.

Later, Adrian reads poetry from Verlaine and plays the violin in sweet, high tones only to collapse in the Hoffmeister parlor. He leaves town, and Anna leaves to find him.

All of this mystery is superimposed on the guilt war brings: to the survivors, to the enemy , and to the fathers that urged their sons to serve the fatherland.

In France, older fathers sing “La Marseillaise” and with surface nationalism hiding deep  prejudice. Peace is not easily  made: War is not easily over. In juxtaposition, the German father has told his household that ” Every Frenchman is my son’s murderer.” When Herr Hoffmeister gives Frantz’s violin to Adrian, he says it is like giving his son’s heart to his friend. We find out that this is not the case.

Wind blows throughout the film, and the lies fall like leaves. One of the most beautiful scenes is again auditory. The letters from Frantz are read with both the Frenchmen’s  and the German’s voices merging. Humanity is humanity.

Anna does a Virginia Woolf, but is saved by Mr. Kreutz. Frantz’s parents respond by putting her to bed and saying, ” you helped us survive, now we must help you.” Anna goes to confession, and takes good advice from a priest, who does not believe that truth conquers all. Forgiveness is beset with ” return to sender” missives. A savvy French mother, a fragile artist son, and a fiancée named Fanny, and the proverbial train station scene keep us guessing until the end. And love makes us want to live. Enjoy this retro film, it has much to say that should not be lost.

“Saint Laurent”

“Yves St. Laurent Slips Away” may have been the headline in Paris’s “Le Monde” in 1977, but in this 2014 biopic, it is St. Laurent’s character that slides. The self-destructive couturier and self-indulgent 33 year old is superbly played by actor Pierre Niney. Niney looks like YSL and has his mannerisms,as well as,actually dressing in his clothes and luxuriating in Yves St. Laurent’s apartments. We learn of St.Laurent’s work rituals like his wearing of white lab coats and his penchant for classical music. We also learn of his substance abuse and his passion for risky sex and chocolate mousse. The film makes it clear that he was the artistic genius who had no interest in the scheduling or in the business transactions. As his assistant prattles on about the day’s line-up of appointments,he rebuffs her with,”Let me listen to my music,please.” As he draws and sketches,selects fabrics and models,and attends fittings,his partner Pierre Berge (Guillaume Gallienne) runs the fashion house’s financial side. Laurent complains of Pierre to his girl pals Lou Lou and Betty,”You can vanish here–only power and money interest him,the monster!”

Berge was more than cooperative in getting the film “St. Laurent” made. He comes off as the stabilizing factor in Yves’ life. He puts up with temper tantrums,infidelity, boozy clubbing,and St. Laurent’s easy boredom. We,in turn, see Laurent locked in his quarters and managed like a child. Laurent’s own mother tells her son that he has”left the world” and can not change a light bulb. Pierre can and will was his response. It is Pierre that picks up Yves passed out and dumped body at a construction site. It is Pierre who tries to avert a scandal by halting an interview from being published. And it is Pierre Berge who amassed 350 million dollars after St. Laurent’s death. More than Michael Jackson’s or Elvis Presley’s estates earned by comparison.

One scene has a drug addled YSL pick up a Roman bust and attempt to smash Berge’s head in as he slept. Most of this drama stems from the real villain of the film,the debauched socialite,Jacques de Bascher. Introduced to St.Laurent by fashion rival Karl Langerfeld,Jacques (Xavier Lafitte)has no limits on kinky sex or on heavy acid dropping. His most yucky line is ,”why not step into the bushes?” With Jacques,fear and ugliness enter like the cobras YSL hallucinates. Still in this eighteen year relationship with Laurent,Berge begs “Don’t let him destroy us.” St. Laurent responded with,”I love bodies without souls.” Berge later gives St.Laurent a painting of Proust’s bedroom,staid and 19thc safe.

The film’s director Jalil Lespert uses flashbacks inordinately. Beginning in 1974 where YSL books a Parisian room under the name Mr.Swann (a toast to Proust, maybe) to the Algerian home where he dresses dolls for his sisters,the scenes and atmospheres jump back and forth.This is effective for the “untold story”, but not so much for the actual factual one. One really needs to already know that St. Laurent was the first living artist to have a solo exhibit at the Met. or that he ushered in “men’s clothing for women” in the form of tuxedos and trousers, and that he pushed the borders of couture  with the sheer blouse. That he was a protégée of Christian Dior or the that he retired in Marrakesh was not broached. What was shown was his love of music,Maria Callas in particular. His goals of art acquisitions like Matisse, Mondrian and Rothko;his wish to please his mother,his early hobby of collecting y- shaped sticks for good luck,his cameo collection in later life and his Buddha altar were all interesting.

I enjoyed seeing the actual seamstress work and appreciated the pressure they were often under. “Tell Mr. Laurent that I am not Houdini’s wife” was a telling line. How to keep satin-backed organza simple was refreshing, as was watching gigantic scissors slicing through patterns. The collections and the runway shows entranced. The scenes with girl pals Lou Lou and model Betty were fun. My favorite line being St. Laurent’s, “Let’s go in disguise and terrorize everyone” would have a different take today.

I did not enjoy the 1971 disco clubbing or the four year old French bulldog Moujik’s demise from spilled pills. The fancy granite headstone and box of white lilies hardly made up for the pet’s panting,drooling and suffering. I disliked the pseudo-frontal nudity and the genital jewelry. Somehow,”you dress the world” does not include these. The film left me feeling sad for YSL’s shallowness. His “fashion passes like a train” will be want I hope to remember.