INTERVIEW: FRANÇOIS OZON

After Frantz's premiere in San Sebastian, I interviewed François Ozon about this gem of a film where he establishes a fascinating dialogue with Ernst Lubitsch's 1932 masterpiece, The Broken Lullaby (The Man I Killed). 

How did you arrive at this story? Was it from the theatre piece, or from Lubitsch's 1932 film, The Broken Lullaby?

 

I first arrived at the play and then when I realized that Lubitsch had already adapted it I felt a bit discouraged, and I was going to abandon the project, but when I saw the film and I realized that, much like the theatre play, Lubitsch's film told the story from the point of view of the French. But what interested me was telling this story from the side of the losers of the war, the Germans, and from the point of view of Ana's character. So, because of this I overcame my initial resistance very quickly and I told myself that my movie would be very different from Lubitsch's. Because he also did it in the 30s, without knowing that there would be a Second World War a few years later, and therefore my perspective now (our current historical perspective) is completely different.

 

How do you think your knowledge of the 2nd World War affects your film?

 

Lubitsch's film is very beautiful, but today it seems a bit naive, because he believes in Franco-German reconciliation, which for us is a little ironic nowadays knowing everything that happened a few years later. That's why it was important for me to build the film like a mirror with that second trip when Ana goes to France, and show the two nationalisms and the way they reflect each other. In my opinion, this brings a completely different point of view to the story.

On the relationship with the Lubitsch film ...

 

You Spaniards are obsessed with Lubitsch! (laughs) He's a much better director than me, that's for sure.

 

It seems to me that Lubitsch's film is much more direct in its anti-war allegation, especially in the prologue. I assume you decided to drop the prologue because you wanted to start from the German side, but why didn't you include a prologue about the armistice on the German side? And also: I think the most directly antiwar shot of your film is when Ana goes on the train and we see the ruins reflected on the window, in front of her face. That's also perhaps the most Lubitschian shot of the film, so I wanted to ask you about it:

 

Lubitsch and I didn't live the same things, we belong to very different generations and he was an Austrian exiled in the United States, who fled from Nazism. I have not lived the war, and therefore our perspectives and our films are necessarily different. But I think that my film is also pacifist, but in a different way, because for me it was important to show Ana returning to France and seeing the remnants of the war, its consequences. I was interested in the fact that for the Germans the First World War is quite forgotten actually, because there weren't many fronts in German territory, but mainly in other countries. Instead, they are obsessed with the Second World War. And for me it was important that the German characters realize the consequences of the war, because they did not exist in the same way (marking the territory, as ruins) in their own country.

 

I find it very interesting that, although you did not include Lubitsch's prologue, you did include a confession scene nevertheless, but in your case it is Ana who confesses, not Adrian. I think that the difference between the two confessionary scenes is perhaps the key to understanding the difference between your film and Lubitsch's, because The Broken Lullaby is about death, war and murder, and instead your film is much more about the secrets and lies that mark these characters' relationships... and I think that's why the confession in Frantz is not about a murder, but about a lie.

 

Yes, I totally agree. And I think Lubitsch's first scene is about information: he tells you the secret in the first scene. While in my movie the scene of Ana's confession is more about forgiveness. I was interested in showing a heroic priest, a priest who says that lies can be good sometimes, that sometimes they can remove suffering. I really like the first scene of Lubitsch's movie, but in my case, since my film is told from Ana's point of view, I thought it had to be Ana who confessed her sins.

You have said several times that the decision to introduce color in some specific scenes was more emotional than rational, especially when deciding when to introduce it. But there is a particular moment that interests me: when they are going to the lake and the color enters just as they pass through the tunnel, and it is the first time that color enters reality and the present time. And I am also interested in the contrast of this with the second time Ana goes to the lake, this time alone, and there's no colour here because now she is alone and sad ...

 

For me the color was not rational... This was a big problem with the producers, who wanted me to find a concrete and closed sense. I do not know. I tried things in the edit and I left in what I felt worked. In that scene I was interested in happiness and the feeling that life returned to these characters, to their veins, after a period of mourning and suffering. As if life returned.

When Ana and Adrian meet for the first time, in the cemetery, it is very interesting that you frame them in a wide shot that is backlit, so they appear only as silhouettes, which makes them very similar, like to mourning shadows.

 

Yes, this idea of how similar they are at this point was important. It was an amazing location. I was interested in showing them as silhouettes surrounded by tombs to express that they are a bit like two living dead, like two ghosts who are going to meet and help each other to try to come back to life after this period of suffering and death, because they both suffer because of Frantz's absence.

 

It's interesting that you assume there is suspense in the first part, that we will not know that Adrian killed Frantz, when many people have seen Lubitsch's film:

 

Is the Lubitsch film well-known here in Spain? In France nobody knows it, and in Germany nobody has seen it. But I think my film is better when you have not seen Lubitsch's and therefore you do not know that Adrian killed Frantz, it has more power. It's better this way: forget about Lubitsch!

 

If you don't know, the movie is clearly split in half by the revelation.

 

Exact. It's a bit like Psycho.

 

In the flashback of the trenches, you make a camera movement from a close-up of Adrian to Frantz, who is dead... as if you were trying to condense in a simple camera movement everything that is going to happen in the film, identity theft, etc…

 

Yes, for me it was a very important scene. It is the heart of the movie. And I filmed it a bit like a love scene. The two characters meet face to face and could kiss, but instead they kill each other... And that interested me a lot and it was very important to better understand the character of Adrian, to show how traumatic it was to kill Frantz. This was very common, those face-to-face encounters between two young kids who did not know what to do but had to kill each other...

 

And it's also a love scene because when he murdered Frantz, Adrian finds the letter and at that moment his love story with Ana begins, right?

 

Well, that's your interpretation. But in that moment Adrian realizes that the young man he has killed has a girlfriend, has a life... and that he is a bit like another version of himself, like a mirror, and sees him as a brother or as someone who could be him. And he feels the need to know who Ana is and who this family is, in a certain way he has an unconscious need to cover the gap that Frantz will leave.

 

And what about the shot I mentioned earlier, the one of the ruins reflected on the window of the train in which Ana travels to France?

 

For me it was a very important shot, very complicated to do... Because I did not have the means of Spielberg to build a France in ruins. But I came up with the idea of ​​these reflections of the ruins on her face and it seemed to me that this condenses the whole film: the fact of seeing her face and the ruins together makes us suddenly understand the horror of war, and that in France there was also destruction and there are also broken families, and for me it was very important to express that.

It is also a way to see the shot and its reverse-shot at the same time, isn't it?

 

Yes, exactly. It's like a projection on her face, the action and the reaction all at once.

 

I also wanted to ask you about the ending with Manet's painting. The last two shots of the film are two camera movements: first to Ana's face in the foreground, and then from her face to the painting. Why?

 

For me it was important to show that picture in color, and Ana's face too. I liked the paradox of that phrase: "it makes me want to live", when at the same time we are seeing an image of death, of suicide. But for me it was also a way of showing that Ana takes a distance, that she begins to see all this story as if she were an external spectator, on a screen, and is freed from all this. The painting is like a symbol of all this morbid story from which Ana now begins to break free. As she looks at the painting, she is no longer a character in this story, but a spectator.

 

And if you want to express that she is distancing herself, why doesn't she get up and leave?

 

Because the beauty is to stay and look. It is good to look at what one has lived, to look at it is not to live it. She looks at it with distance, but she is not in the picture.

 

And finally: which film is better, yours or Lubitsch's?

 

I like them both. What I find beautiful is that mine is an answer to Lubitsch. As a Frenchman I made a film about the Germans, and he, as an Austrian, made a film about the French. I think the two films are interesting to watch, that they are very different and that they respond to each other.

Miguel Faus