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Fuller on Film: The Beauty of the Back

Picture of Graham Fuller
Film Editor
Updated: 1 August 2017
François Ozon’s Frantz makes exquisite use of an artistic device—the Rückenfigur, or “back figure”—made famous by the 19th century painter Caspar David Friedrich.

Frantz, which opened in the US in March, is set in in Quedlinburg, Saxony, in 1919. Grief-stricken 20-year-old Anna (Paula Beer) learns that a Frenchman, Adrien (Pierre Niney), has been visiting the grave that memorializes her fiancé, Frantz. The two young men were combatants on opposite sides in the late war; Frantz died in the trenches.

Paula Beer and Pierre Niney in Frantz
Paula Beer and Pierre Niney in Frantz | © Music Box Films

When Anna enters the cemetery to see the stranger for herself, the film’s director, François Ozon, and cinematographer, Pascal Marti, shows her from behind. She is close enough that we share her perspective, but not so close that we obtrude on her feelings.

The image is echoed by others similarly influenced by the Rückenfigur compositions—sometimes haunting, sometimes serene—of the German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1874-1740).

Getting to know each other, Anna and Adrien, stroll in the lower Harz Mountains and sit by a lake, a shot of their backs tacitly indicating Anna’s dawning tenderness for this lost young man as much as her body language.

As our accompanying video essay shows, Ozon was scarcely the first director to draw on Friedrich’s Rückenfigurs and their relationship to nature with its transcendent capacity to soothe, heal, and suggest new beginnings and ancient feelings.

Read Culture Trip’s interview with François Ozon here.

Caspar David Friedrich, “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon,” (1830-35)
Caspar David Friedrich, “Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon,” (1830-35) | Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons