The lead was beautiful – quite exquisite in fact when you looked closely. There was a porcelain fragility to a face that was markedly luminescent up there on the big screen. I felt I could look at that face forever – and his co-star was reasonably fetching to the eye as well. But, really, it was no competition. He, Pierre Niney, was Ozon’s trump card in ‘Frantz’ – and he delivered. For this scribe to be attracted to the male star, rather than the female lead, says something.
And to think I debated about going after reading Jake Wilson’s review for the offering in the Age. 113 minutes is a long time for an old fella to sit through if he’s bored brainless. Jake obviously didn’t enjoy the experience one bit and I didn’t want to repeat that. But, thankfully, the other more positive evaluations in print; the trailer and the director’s track record tempted me to the cinema for it. Apart from being quite mesmerised by Nimey’s portrayal of the tortured Adrien, it was a tale that took off in all the directions that I didn’t expect – adding to the treat. It has a secret at the core that explains Adrien’s wretched mental state for much of the film – and it’s a secret that is revealed early enough to get full mileage from it.
It is a chaste feature compared to some others from François Ozon. ‘Swimming Pool’ is one of my favourite French movies and he’s also been responsible for ‘8 Femmes’, ‘In the House’, ‘Young and Beautiful’ and the amazing ‘Under the Sand’ – one of the great visual takes on loss and grieving. The only aspect of ‘Frantz’ that irritated me a little was the fading into and out of the dominant black and white to colour at significant moments. One or the other please – preferably the former as it seemed more in keeping with a Germany and France immediately following the Great War.
Anna (Paula Beer) finds she’s not the only grief-stricken visitor to her fiancé’s empty grave. A mysterious stranger, it turns out, also loved Frantz, presumably buried somewhere on the Western Front. But Anna and Adrien are drawn to each other in their sorrow and the latter’s presence is some salve for Frantz’s father – guilt ridden at having convinced his boy to go to war. When Adrien disappears, Anna, conflicted in her feelings towards a combatant from the former enemy side, as Adrien has revealed himself to be, sets out to track him down. More surprises ensue, but, like me, she’s obviously smitten.
Ove too is grieving – firstly for his departed wife and secondly, for his job. After four decades of loyal service to the Swedish Railways, he is unceremoniously sacked by a couple of suits from head office. As a result of these two wallops to his well being, he becomes the stereotypical curmudgeon and at the point of entry to the film he is taking his grief one step further. He is actively trying to kill himself. At this, he finds, he is a spectacular failure. Gradually, though, as the film moves on from these futile attempts, he is embraced by members of his community. They combine to show him that the modern world – a world that has caused all his pain – might just not be such a terrible place to continue living in. And in lovingly drawn episodes from director Hannes Holm, we get his back story, demonstrating that his wife was a gem worth every iota of his grief. Rolf Lassgård is superb as ‘A Man Called Ove’ – and this endearing rendering was a nominee at this year’s Oscars. Like Ove’s wife, it too is a jewel.
François Cluzet’s Gallic features have graced many recent features of European cinema. These include 2015’s ‘One Wild Moment’ and one I particularly appreciated, ‘Little White Lies’. But he is best known for his wheelchair-bound performance in ‘The Intouchables’ (2011). He’s a dependable operator and matched with the gorgeous – no chance of the male lead stealing the limelight here – Marianne Denicourt, we are in for another diamond. That duly comes to pass in ‘The Country Doctor’.
Cluzet plays a physician out in the what is obviously considered the boondocks – but, by our standards, pretty close to civilisation all the same. Still, there are plenty of rustic denizens to add quirky humour to the piece and the good doctor is one of the very few gels that hold his small rural community together. On call day and night, he is fast wearing out, with this being intensified by a prognosis from a colleague that is about to rock his world. The local authority, as a result, deems he is in need of an assistant and along comes Nathalie, fresh out of training. But being a woman of a certain age – and stunningly so – she’s no pushover as Jean-Pierre (Cluzet) is about to find out. Initially ambivalent to her best attempts, the rural doctor soon finds he is forced to be very reliant on her obvious attributes in the job.
In the hands of a Hollywood director this would all soon morph into a cheesy romance, but there’s only the merest hint of deeper feelings here. One of those occasions is when J-P stares wistfully at her naked and vulnerable neck, giving a clue as to what may be bubbling away under the surface. It’s a tender moment in an offering rightly described as ‘… a beautiful movie with a big heart’ and ‘…a film of humanity and optimism.’
The director, Thomas Lilti, is himself a former doctor and it shows. An operator like Jean-Pierre would seemingly be an increasingly rare product these days. I’m lucky I have one of his breed to attend to what, on occasion, ails me.
Each of these three productions are worth seeking out, even if you are somewhat sub-titled adverse. The latter two, in particular, will have you feeling uplifted from the experience in a way no comic book derived franchise mush could even go close to.
Trailer for “Frantz’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBt7nqrp1rE
Trailer for ‘A Man Called Ove’ – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rNe371HykY8
Trailer for ‘The Country Doctor’ -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6pDbTS4UHlA