Franz + Polina is a movie set in WWII in Belarus. The SS has occupied this little village and built a rapport with the local people. They see the SS soldiers as friendly and protectors and invite them into their community. This young soldier, Franz is only in his teens and is after Polina, a local girl his age. They flirt with each other, but the language barrier between them holds them back. The mediators between them are Franz’s officer and Polina’s mother, who both know that they are beginning to like each other. Polina’s mother warns her about dallying with the young soldier, but Franz’s officer encourages him to go after her. However, Franz’s officer hints at a more dark and sinister end to Franz’s winning over of Polina. While Franz only has an innocent crush, his superior hints at him doing more than just flirting, saying he’ll “have her soon” and to get the guts to “take her”. It is clearly implied he’s goading Franz to eventually rape her. Franz, through all of this, is naive to his officer’s intentions. When they start getting friendlier, the truth comes out as to the SS’s true purpose there: to exterminate everyone in the village. SS Soldiers swarmed the village, shot everyone and burned down their houses. In the midst of all this, Franz lets Polina and her mother hide, and shoots his commanding officer, choosing Polina over his military duties and orders to kill.
Both Polina and her mother survive, and they hide and then flee once it was safe. Polina disguises the now deserted soldier in her brother, Pavil’s old clothes. He was off fighting as a partisan in the woods along with her father. Shortly into their journey, Polina’s mother dies from heartbreak and exhaustion due to what happened. Polina and Franz then went alone into the woods, setting up a makeshift shelter and finding their own food. It is there they finally consummate their relationship, only mutually as opposed to Franz’s officer’s more brutal vision. As they start to settle in though, partisans do find them and capture them. Polina tried to persuade them not to, and told them that Franz was her mute brother. However, they shoot anyways, but both run and Franz got away unhurt, but Polina was badly wounded. Luckily, they ran into a band of civilian refugees from the village and stay with them to help Polina. Franz, starts to get ill himself, but sneaks into town to get medicine for Polina, by speaking German and taking a guard’s uniform. When he gets back though, he is found out to be a German as he speaks German in his delirium. It is also found out that Polina is pregnant by him as well. The movie ends as Franz fetches water for Polina, but a boy from the village that was burned down shoots him in revenge for what happened.
Overall, the movie was a bit slow in places and seemed to drag on. The only thing I liked about the overall film was that it was bilingual with German and Russian, for authenticity. The tone of the entire movie was quite dark, no true happy moments as they were all quickly snuffed out. However, one can’t help sympathizing with both Franz and Polina and their failed love story. The movie focused less on the politics of the situation, about Nazism and their contempt for Russians, but the situation through the eyes of both Polina and Franz.
Franz’s officer was like a father figure to Franz in many ways, guiding him in pursuing Polina albeit in a dark and corrupted manner. Unlike Franz, he was cruel and had no thought of the deeply unethical nature of what he was about to do to Polina’s family whose trust he gained. He though nothing of raping the young girl, and tried to encourage Franz to do it. Luckily, Franz did not think as he did and was too naive to perceive what he really meant. I felt bad for Franz as he did not have a good role model in his officer and was manipulated too, in addition to the whole village. Polina’s mother was more sensible, and tried to hold Polina back from getting too close to the soldiers. Both parental figures, contrasted with their charges knew the bigger picture.
What stuck out to me the most, and made this more mundane movie more significant to me, was the message about two young people caught up in something horrible, and much bigger than them. Even though Franz was in the SS, the unit that carried out much of the Nazi party’s evils he was not evil and did not think like them. Franz was only a teenager who was really naive as to what was going to happen and was horrified at what did. His naivete showed most prominently when he didn’t pick up on his superior officer basically telling him it’s okay to “take” Polina by force. He was just as fooled as the locals were into thinking they were friends, not foes. I liked how the movie humanized Franz, instead of making him into yet another sadistic SS soldier. It was clear he was their victim too. When I watched Franz and Polina interact, it was easy to see that they were just kids when all was said and done. They really didn’t have much difference between them, only the language barrier. Franz was as much of a victim as Polina was of the devastation. He even killed his officer, a father figure in his life at that point, to spare Polina and her family.
I believe the message to take away from the movie was how war devastates young people and they are the innocent victims in it. Both Franz and Polina did not carry the hatred that the other grownups around them did or the weight of what was happening. They both were naive and in their own little world. Despite the SS uniform on Franz and Polina being the “enemy”, they were just kids when all was said and done. Two young people tragically caught up in a horrible world and hurt because of it.