Review of ‘Frantz’

Frantz, France & Germany, 2017, directed by François Ozon

Post-war romantic saga or clunky assertion of our common humanity? You can almost taste pre-twenties Europe in this well-styled film that could do with lopping off the last few twists in its plot. (And Anna’s hats are quite something.)

Frantz opens with a puzzling occurrence in a German town in the year after the First World War’s end. Anna, who is visiting the grave of her fallen-soldier fiancé, Frantz, gleans that an unknown Frenchman has been placing flowers on the grave too. He tries to visit the home of her former in-laws-to-be, where she is staying, and is kicked out by Frantz’s father for being French. There is some back-and-forth as Anna seeks him out, and eventually introductions are made. The visitor, Adrien, whom it turns out had some form of connection with Frantz, brings new life to the home and we even get the sense that there could be some romance between him and Anna.

Tension cultivated, denouements are tossed at us with gusto for the rest of the film. Halfway through the 113 minutes there is a Big Reveal, a this-man-isn’t-who-you-thought-he-was. This would probably have been enough, but then we are treated to a number of other untie-the-knots, namely: deceit from the protagonist, Anna; an attempted suicide; a you-thought-he’d-died moment; and even a surprise fiancée. (Incidentally, the surprise fiancée is one of the most compelling characters in the movie, despite only having a few minutes’ screen time to show it.) By the end, it feels like the energy you’ve put into suspending your disbelief is being exploited somewhat.

suicide

Édouard Manet, Le Suicidé

Though artistic tropes are rather over-used (poetry-sharing, violin-playing, appreciating paintings, and dancing all feature in both the burgeoning relationship and the lost one), the use of the Manet painting Le Suicidé is surely one of the best things about the film. Appearing repeatedly (in disguise at first) to tie together the different turns of the storyline, the painting depicts a man who has committed suicide lying on a bed. Unfortunately, as Anna stares at it in the ending of the endings, we are lacking in knowledge about what her hopes and dreams might be. Perhaps they lie in the young man next to her in the museum: the one she has a brief conversation with. God forbid she has any hopes and dreams that do not involve marrying fragile young artists. (True, we do see her playing piano a few times; but always as accompaniment to Adrien.)

Pascaline Chavanne’s styling is sumptuous and full of glorious details that feed you that pre-flapper-and-suffragette moment like a plain-looking but surprisingly tasty hors d’oeuvres. Adrien’s hair is always falling in his face, and not in a suave way. His moustache looks like it has just landed and perched on his upper lip: a precarious arrangement, fitting for a sensitive person. Anna spends every second looking immaculate, with earrings glistening out from under carefully tilted pinned-brimmed hats.

Anna’s styling being quite glorious for its own sake, the characterisation doesn’t match it, though Paula Beer’s acting is outstanding. I am left wishing I had a clearer idea of what aspect of her personality her style has been designed to represent. This is surprising in a film from the director of 8 Mujeres. Still, wishy-washy character design doesn’t stop Beer from playing every scene with consistent, sparkling subtlety of movement and expression. Pierre Niney (Adrien), too, holds up a very effective sensitive young artist with a secret. I feel that I type the same comments too often about films: that the script didn’t warrant the outstanding quality of the acting.

If the protagonist could have been more three-dimensional, the theme of common humanity across borders is successfully brought to the front of our minds. Working out how best to take it in (French-German audio; Catalan subtitles) was a labour of love for me. That we can one minute be learning each other’s languages and the next minute killing each other is a point explicitly made by Adrien. Here the sharing of language – the epitome of connection – is contrasted with killing each other: the epitome of disconnection. Multilingualism in films often adds to their universality; here it was effective, if not subtle, in doing so.

 

Film about Egyptian uprising

Before I left London, I went to see In The Shadow Of A Man at the Mosaic Rooms, the Qatar Foundation’s establishment in London. I would recommend that you buy it, watch it, and share it with all your friends. This is an enlightening expose of what life is like for women in both urban and rural Egypt; of their experiences, their needs and desires, the oppression they suffer, and the different ways they are acting for change. Some points from the film that have especially stayed with me:

  • The comment from a leading female Egyptian farmers’ rights activist that ‘women’s problems are Egypt’s problems; we cannot emancipate women until we emancipate the people’.
  • The voracious debate, in a fabric shop, between a woman regurgitating prevailing patriarchal discourse about women in politics (they won’t be able to devote time to politics because of the distraction of their children!), and another women educating and liberating her from these views; their friendliness and sisterhood towards each other; their respect for each other.
  • Powerful shots of women leading chants and marches in the 2011 revolution that toppled Mubarak.

A Great Film…with Pauses

I was wholly moved by this film, and I think it may be the best thing I’ve seen at the LLGFF. The concept of a man in his fifties going on a date with a teenage boy while his daughter runs off to spend the evening with a dodgy character is already intriguing. Its execution is delicate and thought-provoking; every shot tells a story and every actor plays with a nuance that strikes the heart. It was the use of dialogue/pauses and the way that they are interweaved with a web of techniques to achieve the film’s goals that especially struck me.

 

The interactions between Abi and Dexter also provide an elegant and triumphant – yet authentic – reversal of the male-seer, female-seen dichotomy. Although we expect Dexter to be ‘persistent until successful’ with Abi in keeping with the prevailing myth of courtship propagated in popular film, it is Abi who has the agency in every scene. It is when she calls him that he is allowed to come and pick her up; she kisses him first; she tells him to take her to his house; and so on until she dictates his final sentiment by refusing the gift of a photograph.

British Pathé and Modern-Day News Reporting

When I heard the wonderful news that British Pathé had released their newsreel archives on to YouTube, I decided to write a blog post. The topic was to be the exciting potential of the comment function to provide a means for ‘common people’ to share their views on the content, thus re-casting the British imperialist narrative of our history in a fresh light.

Have you ever read any YouTube comments?

Most are inane; many are offensive; some are thought-provoking. The ones on the British Pathe videos are no exception.

After watching a good number of the videos, it was a different theme that crystallised in my mind. The selection of content provides a potent reminder of how we should approach the ‘newsreels’ of our present day – the 24-hour channels, the live-tweet sessions, the daily Kindle download.

A notable focus is the ‘freak show’ theme – the subjects are huge babies, dwarves, people of any appearance that is slightly unusual. We are now predisposed to mock the quaintness of these presentations, not only as offensive, but as pointless distractions.

False but ‘amusing’ news, like reports on big babies and short people, serves those in power, as it diverts the reader’s interest from matters of politics, things which actually affect their daily lives.

Their form has changed, but the distractions are still here. Celebrity magazines and ubiquitous football chat, for example. It pays to be aware of this.

Notably absent in the videos are the faces, thoughts, opinions of any African-Caribbean people in the UK. On a separate note, the news reports focus overwhelmingly on the UK, and not outside of it.

These facts of course are not surprising to us in the context of this bygone era. It may seem that I am stating the obvious. Nevertheless, it reminds us of the extent to which all news is shaped by social and cultural conventions and limitations.

It might encourage us to ask ourselves how our current news reporting is shaped by when, where and how it is produced. It may lead us to seek a variety of different news sources; and to think about what is absent from what we see and hear about on a daily basis.

Ten films that have stayed with me

The ‘What’s your favourite film?’ question has come up quite often recently. I always say The Hours. With its many-layered exploration of the role of the artist, the stifling nature of social expectations, the position of women, and how to define meaning within the inevitable march of time, it’s a film that I could watch over and over and still learn from.  Here are ten films I wouldn’t be myself without.

 

  1. The Hours
  2. Dogville
  3. Girl, Interrupted
  4. Aimee & Jaguar
  5. Thelma & Louise
  6. The Shawshank Redemption
  7. This Is England
  8. The Power Of One
  9. Fight Club
  10. Pulp Fiction