The German family upon which he intrudes himself, the Hoffmeisters (Ernst Stötzner and Marie Gruber), who themselves are obviously of the upper middle-class, have brought up their son in an atmosphere of cultural involvement. It is, ultimately, their own cultural enthusiasm which allows them to let the French soldier—an outsider to most Germans, and in Lubitsch’s version someone to which the entire community negatively reacts—into their household. I think it’s more than a little interesting that in Ozon’s film, they quite quickly embrace the Frenchman, while in the German director Lubitsch’s earlier rendition their embrace is a far more laborious event. Nonetheless, the Hoffmeisters like the Holderlins before them, do emphatically allow Adrien into their inner circle, and permit and even encourage their son’s would-be wife to fall in love with him. The world of “them” and “us” easily fades away, as they perceive in the young friend of their son another image of him, which he carefully projects, and perhaps falsely upon their suffering memories, a bit like the film Six Degrees of Separation.
In this sense, this work, in all of its forms, is actually a study of ingress, the entrance of one culture upon another, which, given our current American government’s stand against immigration, speaks more strongly today than it may have in Lubitsch’s day—even if the same issues were clearly there as well in 1932, when Hitler had begun to make such issues visible.
When, after he returns to Paris, and she attempts to reconcile her feelings for the “outsider,” she finally determines to not only forgive him but seek out what has seemed to be the relationship he has proffered her, she discovers, to her horror, that he is not at all the loving companion whom she might have sought; that, instead, he is a kind of “mamma’s” boy, who to please his domineering mother (Cyrielle Clair) he is now determined to marry his childhood friend, Fanny (Alice de Lencquesaing), an ever-patient and actually quite lovely woman who attempts even to embrace the woman who she recognizes as her sexual opponent. Yet, it quickly becomes clear that Fanny will win simply because Adrien is so very weak. His guilt is only a small part of the story: he is a man who cannot even face his own past actions.
Reprinted from World Cinema Review (October 2018).