Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Review: Francesca

Text © Richard Gary / Indie Horror Films, 2016
Images from the Internet

Francesca: Limited Collector's Edition
Written and directed by Luciano Onetti
Guante Negro Films / Unearthed Films / MVD Visual
80 minutes, 2015 / 2016

The advent of VHS spawned an entire industry of VHS-based films that would have never been seen by a large audience, but rather relegated to areas like Times Square or art cinemas that were usually in the seedier parts of towns. These releases tended to be geared towards the cheap, the rushed and violent. American cinema in this area had a boom in both the sexploitation and horror, as these were the biggest sellers at Video Stores, but in places like Italy, the genre turned towards what’s commonly known as Giallo, murder mysteries that specialized in both gore and close-ups (sometimes even zooming close-ups!). The word Giallo, literally translated as “yellow,” is named for a style of populist fiction that started after WWII, which tended to have yellow covers.

Enough time has passed now that this period is looked upon (and rightfully so) with a strong pang of nostalgia by many, especially after the bombardment of high-powered franchised blockbusters. The films from earlier period didn’t always make sense, but they had heart (both figuratively and literally in many cases). Over the past few years, it has become cool to model the style of Giallo films, with various levels of success. In fact, I might ponder that there are more indie films adopting the style in honor of it, than there were to begin with in the day.

Francesca is one of those. Made just a couple of years ago, it is modelled after the Italian style. But unlike most, this is actually in Italian with English subtitles, although it was filmed in Argentina. But here’s an interesting thing that it almost seems as though the film was shot silently, and then all sound, including the voices, were dubbed in after. It’s obvious they are mouthing Italian, but it also seems like a bad dub at the same time, with all the actors’ voices dubbed by Luis Vazano and Silvina Grippaldi. It’s an interesting concept, which I’m not sure if it was intended, or purposeful. Considering the budgetary constraints, it’s forgivable, and gives the film an interesting touch.

The premise is that Francesca, a  psychopathic child, had apparently been kidnapped 15 years earlier, and now, similar to Se7en, people who are deemed “sinful” via Dante’s Inferno, are popping up dead with some Inferno reference nearby. The connection to Francesca is that her dad is a Dante expert. Two police detectives are kinda defective figuring out the mystery and are on the verge of losing their jobs. Will they catch the killer? Will the killer catch them?

The film is steeped in the motif of Giallo, loyal to its look, as if the world was based on the likes of Dario Argento. There are weird camera angles, an odd sort of off-coloring with an occasionally reddish filter, and the film is made to look VHS grainy. Also, there are lots of indicators of the time period, such as typewriters, a film camera, a slide projector, and the wardrobe. This all works together well, and there are actually some incredibly beautiful shots such as a bird flying in slo-mo and just the right composition to make it artful. The ending is also somewhat satisfying, with just the right couple of red herrings. But overall, the film itself is a bit wanting.

A confused copper
The reason for this is that the acting is kind of wooden, the kills are shown mostly off-screen, and the direction is at a tepid pace, even though there is a nice body count. Part of the problem is that there is a dearth of dialog, so the audience is left to fill in just what the cops are up to (it’s around the police that the writing is the weakest), and this never quite shapes up much.

In some ways, however, the film is successful in that is respectful to the genre, and they hit a lot of the right notes for the time. However, it is perhaps a bit too focused on what it is trying to be rather than bringing enough originality to the process. It’s sort of like when someone covers someone else’s song, but they do it exactly like the original. To me, the biggest error, though, is that they released this in Italian, towards that tribute. Considering it was filmed in Latin America, I believe if they had left it in Spanish, the overdubbing would have matched closer, and it would have brought that much more of the Ornetti brothers’ influence into the mix, and been less distracting from the story.

The soundtrack, which is included as a CD in the Limited Collector’s Edition, is a fun listen. The music is also on point, with a ‘80s sound that has just the right touch of dissonant electronica.

As for the film’s extras, first up is a 14:20 minute Behind the Scenes featurette that covers a wide range of topics, such as make-up, anecdotes about filming, locales, and yes the dubbing process, by using a mix of off-stage shooting and production stills. Next is a Deleted Scene, which is an alternative opening at 3:24. It was decent and good to see, but they made the right choice in the one they picked.

I was looking forward to seeing the 19:47 Interview one with the director, Luciano Onetti and the producer, Nicolas Onetti. The brothers also co-wrote the film together. While not as deep as I was hoping it would be, the brothers discuss the film from some interesting aspects. Nicolas goes on a bit about the premieres and awards; Luciano discusses the more interesting connections between this film and their first, Sonno Profondo (Deep Sleep) from 2013. He also indicates they are part of an intended trilogy.

The penultimate is a 2:01 “Hidden Scene,” which is what is shown after the end credits. Last is a bunch of trailers for Unearthed Films, including this one. Oh, but did I say that was all? No, for the Limited Collection Edition, there are the three-discs of a soundtrack CD, a DVD and a Blu-Ray, plus a very nice package with inserts and the like.

I do respect that this was an ambitious work by the brothers Onetti, and on some levels, it actually is quite the nice job. Personally, I believe they could use some outside editing (don’t look at me) to help them punch up some of the looser material. Either way, I look forward to seeing Sonno Profondo, and whatever comes next.

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