Ozon's wake-up call for Europe in 'Frantz'

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Venice (AFP)

Acclaimed French director Francois Ozon brought a pacifist tale of reconciliation to the Venice film festival Saturday with his new melodrama "Frantz", a love story for an uneasy post-Brexit Europe.

A take on German-American master Ernst Lubitsch's 1931 film "Broken Lullaby", itself an adaption of a Maurice Rostand novel, "Frantz" is shot mostly in black and white and set in the aftermath of World War I.

It is not the only film in competition to be rooted in this period: like Derek Cianfrance's "The Light Between Oceans", the story is one of traumatised people on the move -- recalling those uprooted by wars and heading for Europe's shores today.

"Frantz" opens in a small German town -- the film is shot largely in German -- where Anna (played by sweet-faced Paula Beer) mourns daily at the grave of her fiance Frantz, killed in battle in France.

One day a mysterious young Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney) also visits the grave. While Anna believes she has found a friend of Frantz's, he is spat at by the locals, hostile so soon after the German defeat.

Among the scenes of "Broken Lullaby" replicated by Ozon is the speech by Frantz's father in which he admonishes his compatriots, reminding them of France's two million dead, each of whom was also someone's son.

The film, premiering on the anniversary of the outbreak of World War II and as pro-Europe protesters organise anti-Brexit rallies, warns of the dangers of nationalism and closing the door on neighbours or migrants.

- Colour of mourning -

Ozon, who shot to fame with "8 femmes" (2002) and "Swimming Pool" (2003), told journalists in Venice it had been "important for me to tell the point of view of the Germans, who had lost the war".

He chose to shoot largely in black and white because it brought a greater level of realism to the period drama.

"All our references from the period, all our cultural images of it are in black and white. I love colour though, and thought it could be a useful device in scenes where life interrupts the period of mourning," he said.

The film differs sharply from Lubitsch's offering, not only because the second half of the work is invented, but because Ozon -- known for complex female heroines -- shifts the perspective to tell the story through Anna.

Adrien's story of how he knew Frantz is pictured in a series of flashbacks imagined by Anna -- flashbacks which, however, reduced the emotional tension rather than increasing it, particularly in the weak violin scenes.

And there is a homoerotic connection between the two men which screams from the screen but is never outwardly acknowledged.

It is Ozon's love for Germany, the first foreign country he visited as a child, which shines through as he takes the viewer from squares to beer taverns in his exploration of melodrama's classic themes of guilt and forgiveness.