FRANZ – movie review

FRANTZ

Music Box Films
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Grade: A-
Director:  François Ozon
Written by: François Ozon, Philippe Piazzo, inspired by Ernst Lubitsch’s film “Broken Lullaby”
Cast: Paula Beer, Pierre Niney, Ernst Stoetzner Marie Gruber
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 2/3/17
Opens: March 15, 2017
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Not surprisingly, war does something to both the people who are unlucky to be at the front and to those at home who may receive the worst news about their loved ones.  Soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan return bearing the diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. Such is the case, perhaps, throughout history, though way back, they didn’t have a name for the emotional ills.  Some feel guilty about what they did in the war, others because their buddies were killed or seriously injured, still others return with serious disturbances based on their own experiences in a world that’s as foreign to their psyches in vistas far removed from their homes.  “Frantz” is about such a person, a fragile type as his mother called him, who returned from France at the end of The Great War in 1918 after being immersed in a world so different from his own as a member of a major French symphony orchestra.

Equally significant is the war’s effect on a German family, which had lost their only son in the trenches.  “Frantz,” though the title character, barely makes an indent in this story which was inspired by Ernst Lubitsch’s “Broken Lullaby,” in which the great Lionel Barrymore played a doctor who was the father of a hapless World War One victim.

Were he alive, Lubitsch would feel that Ozon’s treatment of the subject was at least emotional.  And no wonder.  The French director, best remembered here, perhaps, by “Under the Sand,” about the mental disintegration of a female professor when her husband goes missing at the beach, does an exquisite job with “Frantz.”  He is most fortunate to work with a terrific ensemble, particularly Paula Beer as young Anna and Pierre Niney as Adrien.  And he has the good luck to work with cinematographer Pascal Marti, whose lenses capture all the subtleties and reverses, with a final irony depicted in the last scene’s referencing Edouard Manet’s painting, “Le Suicidé.”

Photographed in several locations of Germany, especially Saxony, and also picturesque French towns like Ballancourt-sur-Essonne and Haute-Vienne, “Frantz” takes us to the unhappy home of Anna (Paula Beer) and her foster parents Doktor Hoffmeister (Ernst Stötzner) and Magda Hoffmeister (Marie Gruber), in mourning for the loss in the war of their only son Frantz (Anton von Lucke—who will show up in flashbacks).  When young Anna sees a Frenchman, no less, putting flowers on her fiancé’s grave, she is curious, and invites the young man into the Hoffmeister home.  Coupled with  mourning is the Doctor’s hatred of anything French.  He blames every Frenchman for the murder of their son and are not thrilled at the mysterious arrival of twenty-four-year-old Adrien (Pierre Niney).  Adrien has something to get off his chest. He comforts the threesome with stories of his friendship in Paris with Frantz where, he relates, they took in the sights, particularly the Louvre where their favorite painting is Manet’s “Le Suicidé.”.  It takes just a little time for the father to shrug off his hatred of everything French in embracing his son’s best friend, the two apparently separated during the war.

As we watch the growing affection between the shy Frenchman and the pretty German woman, we can’t help thinking that Adrien will take Frantz’s place as her lover and husband.  In fact the whole entente between the two serves as metaphor for the idea that hostilities leading to war are irrational and that an understanding and compromise could avert all such conflicts.  (Note the U.S. alliance today with Germany and Japan and the increasing commerce and friendship between our country and Vietnam!)

We could infer that Ozon and his co-writer Phillipe Piazzo are anti-war, perhaps even pacifists.  Recall that films showing the absurdities of war and the embrace of pacifism began in force with Erich Maria Remarque’s classic novel “All Quiet on the Western Front” which was made into the classic 1930 film by Lewis Milestone.  That theme continues right up to last year’s “Hacksaw Ridge” about a recruit’s refusal even to take a rifle in his hands.

The performances come across as utterly authentic, with Marie Gruber’s delightful role as a matronly woman who will do anything to make her son’s fiancé happy and especially Paula Beer in the principal role of a teary woman who tells a persistent but much older suitor (Johann von Bülow) that she does not want to forget Frantz.

The film is in German and French, the two principals happily fluent in both, and was nominated for the César Awards in eleven categories.  Wise judgment, indeed.

Rated PG-13.  113 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online

THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT – movie review

  • THE OTTOMAN LIEUTENANT

    Paladin
    Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
    Grade: B
    Director:  Joseph Ruben
    Written by: Jeff Stockwell
    Cast: Michiel Huisman, Hera Hilmar Josh Hartnett, Ben Kingsley
    Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 2/24/17
    Opens: March 10, 2017
    The Ottoman Lieutenant Poster #1
    If you learned in high school that World War One pitted the Ottoman Empire, Austria and Germany against Britain, France and Russia, you would not be entirely wrong.  However, like other things taught in high school, the war was more complex.  In Russia, Lenin would hold to the slogan, “Turn colonialist wars into civil war,” pulling Russia out of the war and into overturning the Czars.   In Britain, Irish were seething to form their own country and to break away from the UK.  And in the vast Ottoman Empire, which was later carved into a series of independent states under the rule of Britain and France, both Arabs and Armenians were plotting to break from a geographical entity that was just too large to be other than “the sick man of Europe.”

    Though the Ottomans were opposed in 1914-1918 by Britain, France, Russia and America, to say nothing of Arabs and Armenians living in their borders, there was at least one good guy in the vast Middle-Eastern region and, of course, several good Americans.  We learn this from Joseph Ruben’s “The Ottoman Lieutenant.”  Ruben, whose 1991 feature “Sleeping with the Enemy” focused on a woman who faked her own death to avoid her husband, is more optimistic this time.  His primary focus is on Lille (Hera Hilmar), who becomes bored with her more than comfortable life in the U.S., proving that it’s not only a one-way trek of Muslims who want to live in the U.S. to be safe from thugs like Assad.  She courts danger by sailing to Istanbul and ultimately to a remote area of the Turkish lands, leaving her stiff-necked Christian parents to wonder what they did wrong.

    It’s not the parents.  In the Philadelphia hospital where she did her nursing, she watches in horror as doctors refuse to treat a black man who is bleeding to death because he is “in the wrong place,” and decides that even the lands across the seas would be more just. Though she finds herself in an American hospital in the Turkish sticks when full-scale war breaks out, she has no intention of moving back. She enjoys hanging out with Jude (Josh Hartnett), a handsome American doctor who is a volunteer, Woodruff (Ben Kingsley), the hospital’s founder, and most of all Ismail (Michiel Huisman), the title character, who is a dashing Turkish Muslim who speaks fluent English and is in love with her.  In Jeff Stockwell’s script, a romantic triangle results for her hand, Ismail against Jude, while Ottomans are defending themselves against the Russian invaders, Armenians are subverting the Turks in the Empire, and—though not covered in this picture– Arabs are rebelling against the Ottomans as well.

    Nobody is going to suggest that “The Ottoman Lieutenant” can stand up in any way against David Lean’s epic 216-minute film “Lawrence of Arabia,” the 1962 classics about a British officer and archeologist who unites the Arabs in their rebellion against the Turks.  But director Ruben is at least as eager to highlight the romantic triangle as he is about the shootings and explosions of Ottomans vs. Russians.  And what an adorable woman the Iceland-born Hera Hilmar is in the role of Lillie, a 23-year-old who goes where women are not supposed to go and where the hospital’s founder, Woodruff, tries at first to convince her to go home and leave him with the supplies she shipped with her on the long voyage to Istanbul.
    Just a look from her and men would melt.  And you can’t blame them.  When she gazes into the eyes of handsome Ismail (in real life a Nederlander now living in New Orleans), the swashbuckling exotic who seems perfectly willing to break with the Koran and lie with a Christian woman, you can see the sparks fly.

    In this “poor man’s Laurence of Arabia,” Daniel Aranyó behind the lens captures the vastness and beauty of the Turkish landscape, especially highlighting Cappadocia, today the leading tourist attraction outside of Istanbul.  Horses gallop, men shoot one another, forbidden love is made.  The whole business, though, is kitschy, which is not a bad thing, especially if you are the type of person who goes for Harlequin romances, saccharine emotions, swashbuckling action, tearful separations, and pulsing music.  This is fare for the big screen, a movie that may encourage you to look for Hera Hilmar in future movies wherever Amy Adams types are required.

    Unrated.  112 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, NY Film Critics Online