Film Review: Frantz

François Ozon’s Frantz is an absorbing drama. The film is beautifully photographed, and features a fine central performance.

Following the end of World War I, German Anna mourns the death of her fiancé. Visiting the cemetery, Anna meets a mysterious Frenchman who is also laying flowers on her fiancé’s grave…

François Ozon is known for working within a number of genres, yet here with Frantz he excels himself. The film is a post-war drama, with accents of mystery and romance. Based on Ernst Lubitsch’s Broken Lullaby (which itself was an adaptation of a play), the film focuses on the themes of grief and guilt. Frantz is at times moving, at times tense, but always engaging.

The film operates in a two-part function. The first half is more faithful to the source material, offering a burgeoning companionship between Adrien and Frantz’s family. The second half offers a reimagining of the story. The story transforms from one of grief and recovery, to one of guilt and longing. The attitude towards Adrien in the village seems believable, but this does not negate from the discomfort it produces. Although set almost a hundred years ago, unfortunately these events do not feel dated.

The positioning of Anna as the protagonist is a wise move. Her point of view is the most interesting one, crossing the divide between Adrien and the Hoffmeisters. In the second half of the film in particular, Anna’s story takes on a more significant dimension. The finale of the film is finely executed, giving thought-provoking perspective to what has gone before.

Cinematography in Frantz is excellent. Pascal Marti photographs the film beautifully. The black and white/colour combination works very well, particularly when the two blend into one another. Paula Beer is wonderful as Anna. Her performance evokes sympathy, yet she is  a strong and stoic central character. Pierre Niney is also good as Adrien.

Frantz visually appealing, with a well-crafted narrative. Ozone’s film is a very rewarding watch.

Frantz is out on Blu-ray and DVD from 10th July 2017.

Film Review: Jeune et Jolie

Jeune et Jolie

François Ozon’s Jeune et Jolie is for the most part an engaging if subversive coming-of-age story.

Sixteen-year-old Isabelle spends the summer with her family by the beach. The events of the summer break have an impact on the rest of Isabelle’s year, although perhaps not in the way imagined…

Jeune et Jolie is unique spin on the coming-of-age narrative. The film does concentrate on Isabelle’s journey of self-discovery. Nevertheless, the film focuses on the sexual side of her maturity rather than anything else.

The film posits an interesting question; why would a young, financially-comfortable teenage girl want to engage in prostitution. The answers are not easy to find. Ozon explores this dynamic without offering any real reasoning or explanation.

The result of this lack of rationale behind Isabelle’s choices is a feeling of exploitation. There are some rather graphic scenes in which Ozon does not shy away from depicting Isabelle in unsavoury situations. Jeune et Jolie invites viewers to take a voyeuristic angle; one that most will not feel entirely comfortable with.

The narrative progresses at a suitable pace in the film. The seasons mark an evolution in Isabelle’s growth, from exploration to experience. Jeune et Jolie depicts its protagonist as worldly yet still retaining a sense of youth. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is Isabelle’s relationship with her brother. It is this element that offers the best insight into her mindset.

François Ozon depicts many of Isabelle’s encounters with a level of sordidness. The voyeurism relates to the female protagonist rather than her partners, which is what makes the film seem exploitative. Marine Vacth is well cast as Isabelle. Her ambiguous countenance is perfect for the role. Géraldine Pailhas is also good as her mother.

Jeune et Jolie is contemporary in its approach to the age-old journey to adulthood. Interesting but not always comfortable viewing.

Film Review: Potiche

Potiche is a charming comedy from director François Ozon. Catherine Deneuve steals the show with her performance as trophy housewife Suzanne Pujol.

In the late 1970s, Suzanne Pujol is made to feel like a trophy housewife by her husband Robert and two grown-up children. When Robert is taken hostage by his striking employees, Suzanne reluctantly takes control of the situation. As she takes over the reigns from Robert, Suzanne becomes an effective businesswoman, surprising everyone around her…

Potiche is an inoffensive and enjoyable film. Based on the play by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grédy, Ozon’s adaptation is peppered with delightful lines. The film is not outright hilarious, but there are some amusing incidents and dialogue which maintain the jovial tone.

Characters in the film veer between well developed and one-dimensional. Robert is rather synthetic as the philandering and power-hungry husband, while Jöelle is the typically selfish daughter. Nevertheless, town mayor Maurice is rather more interesting, as is secretary Nadège. The latter in particular is very involved in the affairs of the family, and shifts accordingly with the balance of power.

Clearly it is Suzanne who is most interesting. The picture of her that develops in the first section of the film is skewered some revelations. The second half of Potiche works almost like a parody of her character in the first. This flip shows the film’s ingenuity; offering viewers something unexpected. The same can be said for other characters such as Babin, albeit to a lesser extent. What at first seems like a rather straightforward narrative actually produces small twists, which help to generate humour.

The late 1970s setting is fantastically depicted in Potiche. Suzanne’s wardrobe is marvellous; the protagonist manages to make a tracksuit and apron seem glamorous. Similarly, the set design appears authentically of the period, as does the soundtrack. These are best illustrated in the scene where Suzanne visits the nightclub frequented by her husband.

Catherine Denueve is fantastic in Potiche. She really embodies the character, and delivers some of her wry lines very well. Gérard Depardieu is also good as leftist politician Babin. Fabrice Luchini makes the most of his role as the lecherous Robert Pujol. Karin Viard brings a touch of lightness to secretary Nadège.

Potiche probably will not be to everyone’s tastes, given that the comedy is lightly amusing rather than consistently hilarious. However, those who give it a go should find the film an enjoyable watch.