For almost 80 years, Tryon, NC, population 1,646, has had its own movie theater — a rare architectural and cultural accomplishment in small-town America. First opened in 1938, it’s the only movie theater in a 25-mile radius. It was owned and operated by former schoolteacher Barry Flood from 1992 until late last year, when he passed the baton to the new owners, Scott and Gayle Lane.
The Lanes are well known in Tryon as renovators, especially in conjunction with the Missildine’s project, which revived three buildings downtown. Always interested in historic preservation, and passionate about movies, the Lanes jumped at the chance to buy Tryon Theatre when Flood retired. But that doesn’t mean they knew exactly what they were in for.
“It’s been a learning experience,” admits Scott Lane. “I’m getting proficient in the digital projection system, and Gayle is learning the fine points of popping perfect popcorn and keeping up the concession booth.” It takes about five to six hours a day to operate the theater, plus the time needed to deal with film bookers. As a one-screen operation with about 260 seats, Tryon Theatre must compete with bigger venues to schedule first-run fare. They show four new movies a month and two film-society offerings.
Regular Tryon moviegoers will notice a few changes — a new roof, fresh interior paint, and beer served in cans instead of bottles. Other planned upgrades include an improved sound system. Suggestions are being solicited in the theater’s new e-mail newsletter, which already has 300 subscribers. “We also hope to invigorate the film society,” says Lane, “and give it more input into the choice of films.”
First-run movies are shown at 7pm Wednesdays through Saturdays and at 3pm on Sundays. The Tryon Film Society presents fine-art films at 7pm the second and fourth Monday and Tuesday of the month. One of this month’s selections is Frantz, a stunning emotional human drama from French director François Ozon.
In July 1914, “the war to end all wars” began, finishing four bloody years later on November 11, 1918. It took the lives of 1,800,000 German soldiers. One of them was Frantz Hoffmeister, an artist and musician who loved everything French. He didn’t want to go to war, but his father pressured him to enlist.
Even before the war fires cool, angry Germans are calling for a renewal of nationalist fervor. In the local tavern, Frantz’s father, now feeling brokenhearted instead of patriotic, pleads with his old drinking buddies to disavow the myth of the noble homeland. “We are fathers who drink to the deaths of our children,” he chastises them. “When we killed their sons by the thousands, we celebrated our victory by drinking beer. And when they killed our sons they celebrated by drinking wine.”
Frantz’s body lies in an unmarked grave in France. But his grieving fiancée Anna (luminous German actress Paula Beer) has created a gravesite for him in the local cemetery, where she goes daily to lay white roses. One day she discovers that a mysterious French stranger, Adrien Rivoire (French actor Pierre Niney), has also laid flowers on the grave. Who is this man, and why does he come to Frantz’s grave? How did he survive when 1,150,000 other French soldiers were killed?
Slowly, Anna pulls Adrien’s story out of him. He and Frantz, he says, were friends in Paris before the war. He soothes Anna and Frantz’s parents with stories of his adventures with Frantz and their shared love of art and music. He even plays Frantz’s violin for them.
The reminders of Frantz seem too much for Adrien, and he suddenly returns to France. Anna, fearing that Adrien might have replaced Frantz in her heart, goes to France to find him. Alas, her search may be starting the war all over again for her.
Frantz is shown in both evocative black-and-white footage and gorgeous, vibrant color, depending on what part of the characters’ journeys are being remembered. But despite all the incredible cinematic beauty, and the lyrical relationship between the actors, it is a war story. Whether it emphasizes courage or cowardice, whether it ends up being a story about victors or the defeated, there’s one trait about people under pressure that stays horribly true: they tell lies. And Frantz, the war story, the story of love and longing, of grief and regret, is a tale of exquisite lies.
Monday, May 22 & Tuesday, May 23, 7pm
presented by the Tryon Film Society at the Tryon Theatre, 45 S. Trade Street, Tryon