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There’s a definite feel to near enough every film that’s set in continental Europe. Every so often you get one that stands out from the pack – think 1999’s Tea With Mussolini. Unlike the Franco Zeffirelli classic, Frankie is some way off that standard but it does have its moments.
And rather than war-time Italy, we find ourselves in present-day Portugal – Sintra, on the Portuguese Riviera, to be exact. Imagine the Algarve, but a little more sophisticated, which is one word you could use to describe this movie, but the superlatives aren’t always easy to find.
Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) is a middle-aged French actress on her last holiday, due to terminal illness. Her family and friends, which are played by a cast including Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson and Greg Kinnear, also happen to be holidaying there, too, but uncertainty in their own lives coupled with trying to tell Frankie how to live hers, make for a strange experience.
Which goes for the audience as well. While most of the scenes are compact and well-directed in themselves, they don’t form a coherent whole, and we’re left constantly scratching our heads as to how certain things came about. At times it resembles a series of sketches more than anything else. The stellar cast don’t always look as if they have their heart in it, so it’s left to Huppert to steer the ship. Picture-postcard the scenery and cinematography may be, but it can’t paper over the cracks. If you’re a lover of all things art school/Film4, however, you probably won’t notice most of them.
It also suffers from having one too many characters with struggles and tales to tell. It’s a job to fit them all in, to the point where a couple of them are underused and, by the time they reappear in the movie, you’d almost forgotten about them.
Having said all this, it does manage to avoid descending into some kind of dreaded Woody Allen-esque, artsy fare, which is where you fear it’s heading at the beginning. Although heavy on the dialogue, it’s well-written and the occasional subtitles give it an added dimension in much the same way as Quentin Tarantino‘s Inglorious Basterds. It just seems to confuse itself a little and is left with too many loose ends to tie-up in the last 20 minutes, so we’re left bombarded by the finale.
Director Ira Sachs chose to launch the film at Cannes, many considering it a strange selection from his work. A slightly wasted opportunity in more ways than one, Frankie is out now on DVD and Blu-Ray.
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