Tuesday, 6 June 2017

In Frantz it isn't only the hero's mustache that droops

One sniffy star is all Jenny thinks it's worth

My Persian cat is a fine sniffer-out of anything slightly ‘off’. He wrinkles his sweet but rather flat nose and I can see that a judgement is coming. My own nose was wrinkling as soon as Joe, my co-blogger pitched the idea of going to see François Ozon's Frantz. ‘This grieving German girl finds a strange young Frenchman standing at the grave of her dead soldier fiancé in 1919 and he gets to know her family.’ In a flash I correctly guessed two thirds of the allegedly Hitchcockian plot. I don’t like doing this. I don’t like watching bloopers, poor screenwriting and films that are too long because no one had the time to make them shorter. It destroys my willingness to believe that what I’m watching is not a film at all but something gripping and real.

Unfortunately there was so much of all of this in Frantz. First, it’s full of plot holes: how did Adrien (Pierre Niney), the French soldier track down the angry and bereft German family given the flimsy evidence he possessed? How did he know about Frantz’s pre war interests? Then there are all those little give-away details of a director too distracted to notice the give-away details: for instance, a supposedly full tureen of food is plonked on a table when the noise of the plonking shows clearly that it is empty. 

Then there is the scene where the hero impulsively swims in a lake, clad only in his longjohns; a stand-in might have done the swim with more elegant strokes instead of the undignified doggy paddle that we saw. After this, lounging sexily on the bank, his thick cotton underwear has seemingly dried out in seconds even though his body is still gleaming attractively with lake water. The whole scene would surely have been extremely unlikely in 1919. The extras have the awkward air of hastily recruited locals told to do a bit of walking up and down in the background. The editing seems perfunctory - so many unnecessary shots of people opening doors, coming in and out of rooms. At 20 minutes shorter it could have been a much better film.

Pierre Niney and Paula Beer in Frantz (2016)The actors do their best. Pierre Niney plays the French hero – his extraordinary nose and silly moustache deserved a credit all of their own. Paula Beer is elegant and more aristocratic than the part deserves as Anna, the bereaved fiancée.

But my real nose-twitching was about a director claiming to be an Auteur when maybe he is just a workaday storyteller. Can you make a serious film heavily freighted with symbolism and deep meaning if you are not driven by authentic passion for the subject? I don’t think so and I didn’t believe for a moment in the authentic passion. I saw a film where the director was in love with style, with his terribly sophisticated choice of colour-corrected black and white as the medium, with his cleverness in devising parallel scenes of nationalistic stupidity and prejudice, with little speeches about the futility of war. I didn’t want to see the train shots – on a journey, geddit? I was not gripped by the last two reels. These were some kind of low-energy detective story which seemed to belong in a different film. 

Slow, implausible, hastily stitched together. What’s to like?