A pleasantly old-fashioned melodrama, "Frantz" takes place in the immediate aftermath of World War I. The film centers around Anna (wonderful newcomer Paula Beer), a young German woman whose fiancé, Frantz, was killed in combat. She continues to live with Frantz's parents, the Hoffmeisters, and they treat her as they would their own daughter. One day in the cemetery, Anna is intrigued to witness a mysterious Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney), placing flowers at her fiancé's grave. He claims to have been a close friend of Frantz's, though his fragile, sad-eyed countenance suggests there's more to his story than he's letting on.
The exact nature of Adrien's connection to Frantz makes up the main thrust of the film's story, and French filmmaker François Ozon (directing from his script co-written with Philippe Piazzo, loosely inspired by the 1932 Ernst Lubitsch film "Broken Lullaby") infuses the story with intriguing questions about forgiveness, the cost of war, and the toll its nationalistic fervor can take on both sides of a conflict. Ozon shoots the film in lush black-and-white, though muted color occasionally seeps into the image when Anna or Adrien allow themselves to sink back into memory -- a somewhat on the nose, but undeniably effective stylistic touch -- suggesting the ways in which a beautiful lie can often bring more comfort than the more painful truth.