As Frantz’ father says in this film, “Aren’t parents responsible for encouraging their soldier sons to go to their grave for unknown reasons.”
Frantz, a French/German film with English subtitles, is an extraordinary movie on multiple levels. While it is set in the aftermath of World War I, it focuses on heartbreak, loss and a national patriotism that sends young men foolishly to their graves to this very day. It has the emotional impact of Testament of Youth (2014).
Here, we see a young woman called Anna (Paula Beer) going to the grave of her fiancé (Frantz from the film’s title) in Germany to mourn his death in the trenches following the “War to end all Wars”. In doing so, she discovers that other flowers are left on his grave, and her investigation leads to a discovery that a young Frenchman named Adrien (Pierre Nine) has traveled to Germany to pay tribute to her dead fiance for unknown reasons.
At its core level, the film deals with Anna’s torment as well as discovering the purpose of the handsome Adrien. More to the point, did he somehow know Franz from before the war or was he involved in his death?
As Anna is left searching for answers, she is forced to confront the ugly reality following a war that killed millions of young European men for no fundamental purpose. Franz’ parents treat her like a member of the family, and she wants to comfort them while trying to determine Adrien’s purpose in traveling to their small German town. On top of that, German citizens, particularly middle-aged men, continue to hate the French, and it is not hard to see the anger that would lead to Hitler assuming power in 1933.
As the film progresses, Anna travels to Paris to determine what happened to Adrien after he suddenly disappeared. What she discovers is transcendent on multiple levels, not the least of which is learning that the French hate the Germans just as much as the Germans hated them.
I couldn’t help but ponder our current engagement with North Korea that could lead us back into a war that killed thousands of American boys in the 1950s. That war was foolish and excessive, and here we stand ready to repeat it just as the Germans and French wanted to do after the calamity of World War I.
In watching this film, I was reminded of a trip I took with three friends through Europe over a decade ago where we visited various military sites. While we began at the Normandy American Cemetery, our travels took us to places like Verdun that could only bring you to tears. In the process, we repeatedly passed graveyards which are maintained by foreign governments to honor the dead who were never identified.
What I most remember is one graveyard in France that sat on a declining hill. There were hundreds of crosses that were simply marked “Unknown Soldier”. Yet in the fourth row, someone had placed flowers by such a cross. I unashamedly wept openly as I wondered who would choose to place flowers at that particular grave?
As we walked away, I could only imagine that it was someone who lost a loved one whose body was never recovered. Frantz is a movie that relived that moment, and it is a film that you should try to see.