It's 1919 in a small German town filled with sadness and anger following the end of the Great War. A young woman, Anna, mourns the death of her fiancé, Frantz Hoffmeister. Hers is a life shown in black and white, spent in the home of Frantz's parents. When visiting the cemetery, she sees a mysterious Frenchman, Adrien Rivoire, paying his respects at Frantz's grave. He eventually knocks at the family's door and is cautiously invited into their home.
Adrien's story is that he, a French soldier, befriended Frantz whilst in Paris. The pair apparently bonded over art in the Louvre, in particular shared interest in a Manet painting. The stories he tells are literally filled with colour in stark contrast to the monochrome lives of the loved ones Frantz has left behind. As an audience we're teased into wondering what their true relationship might have been: were they lovers? Is Adrien simply withholding details or lying entirely?
The film reminded me in one sense of Hitchcock's Rebecca; the titular characters are largely off-screen but clearly central to the stories. Frantz and Rebecca's lives and deaths dominate the lives of those they've left behind. The two films also share themes of grief, guilt and revenge, though thankfully we steer clear of the melodramatics of the Hitchcock picture.
The performances of five actors are central to the success of the film, though leads Paula Beer and Pierre Niney stand out as the mesmerising Anna and Adrien. The screen time of Anton von Lucke as Frantz is very limited and I don't think he has a single line of dialogue, but he plays the role with a hugely affecting innocence. This is a frightened young man sent off to war and bravely choosing against undertaking acts of violence, whatever the cost to his own personal safety.
Director François Ozon has succeeded in making a film which is by turns puzzling, romantic, surprising and sad. I found the first half very intriguing but was concerned that the story might lose its way once its secrets were revealed. However, quite the opposite was true – the more the viewer is told, the more he or she wants to find out. This is a small-scale story which certainly rewards viewing on the big screen.