"Two countries, two cultures, two characters"
by Fabien Lemercier
- VENICE 2016: French filmmaker François Ozon talks about how Frantz came about, his latest film, which was unveiled in competition at Venice
With Frantz [+see also:
Q&A: François Ozon
film profile], his 16th feature film, François Ozon has thrown himself for the second time in his career into a period film, taking us back to 1919, the period immediately following the war, and plunging us into the heart of defeated Germany, for a dramatic and novelistic story starring Paula Beer and Pierre Niney, which was shown in competition at this year’s 73rd Venice Film Festival.
Were you worried about the prospect of having yourself compared to a writer as well-loved and important as Ernst Lubitsch, who adapted the same story with The Broken Lullaby ?
François Ozon: When I had the idea for Frantz, I didn’t know about Lubitsch’s film. I started off with a play by a French writer, Maurice Rostand, which was written in the 1920s, and I really liked this story about a young French man who comes to lay roses on the grave of a German soldier. I started working on the writing and soon enough, I found out that the story had already been adapted for the big screen in the 1930s by Lubitsch. Initially, I thought to myself "ok, I’ll let it go, how can I follow Lubitsch?" But when I watched Lubitsch’s film, I realised that his point of view was very different from the one I wanted to use. For me, it was very important to tell the story from the point of view of the Germans, from the point of view of those who lost the war, and from the point of view of this young German girl. So very quickly, I took it in a different direction.
Turning to the screenplay, how faithful were you to Rostand’s play?
The play and the film by Lubitsch end with Adrien taking Frantz’s place. I didn’t think it would be possible to end the story like that today. Indeed, the whole second part of the film where we follow Anna, her depression and her journey to France, wasn’t in the play, and nor was the final scene. My film is really constructed like a mirror between two countries, two cultures, and two characters. In the beginning, we see more of Adrien’s point of view, then we shift to see more of Anna’s, and to me it was important to put these two parts of the film in perspective, with each scene reflecting another.
What about the isolated use of colour, which seems to correspond to happy, dreamlike moments?
As I was researching the film, I realised that telling this story in black and white would make it stronger and seem more real. After all, our memory of the war is in black and white. I thought it would be a useful way of immersing the viewer in the story even more. Also, from an aesthetic point of view, the period the film focuses on was a period of grieving and suffering, one which is difficult to imagine in colour. Then, my natural preference for colour prevailed, and I thought it would be nonetheless good to use it, especially in certain settings. I gave the young girl responsible for location scouting in Germany the paintings of Caspar David Friedrich as a point of reference. She found this beautiful landscape and I really wanted to film it in colour. So I had the idea of using colour to flood the film at certain points, as if life is returning. It’s not used logically, but more emotionally, as a feeling.
Why did you use two languages in the film, French and German?
For me, it was really important to use the proper languages, because the film is about French culture and German culture, and acts as a comparison between two countries. And it also seemed like language would allow audiences to better accept the situation when Adrien arrives in this German family. We feel the language barrier, which prevents communication. So we played on that. For the actors, it meant a lot of work, especially for Pierre Niney, who didn’t speak a word of German, whilst Paula Beer spoke a bit of French. But it was important to keep this element of truth. I think audiences are starting to get a bit tired of this Hollywood convention of having films set in Europe in which everyone speaks English with an accent, and that they want something more realistic.
(Translated from French)