In Francesca, two detectives must try to solve a 15-year old case of a missing girl to help catch a serial killer. The current killer is targeting people they think to be impure, believing that they are murdering people who deserve it.
Francesca is an excellent homage to giallo films from the ’60s and ’70s as it hits every familiar thematic and visual beat to convince its audience that this film is one of the much-admired thrillers from Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci. It cannot be denied that director Luciano Onetti (Deep Sleep) has a passion and a love for the giallo style of film-making, because Francesca is a marvellous imitation. However, it is impossible to see Francesca as much more than a passion project, because its mimicry leaves very little to be enjoyed or uncovered.
Despite the film’s appropriate purposeful mystery, Francesca wears a shroud of predictability that will be most noticeable to the audience it is most likely to attract. The film is a problematic carbon copy of every Giallo that has been created; the best parts carefully cut out, glued on to a new page and laminated to craft an impressive portrait that is indecipherable from the Italian thrillers from the ’70s. It is easy to appreciate Francesca’s nods to Fulci, Bava and Argento with its obscure close-ups on leather gloved hands, creepy dolls and the overall stylistic presentation of violence and death, but there is very little to remember when you think back over Francesca days after watching.
There is an element of giallos that has always been a pet peeve of mine; the lack of concern for a narrative drive and a more heightened preoccupation with style over substance. On the most simplest of terms, this is the hunt for a serial killer, but much of the film is made up of flash-backs or dreamy imagery that adds little to the plot. As we all have an understanding of what lurks below a giallo’s story; the truth is not always as it’s told, there is an inability to believe anything that we are shown. A constant wonder and inescapable disbelief will haunt you as an audience, thus leaving any twist, turn or revelation as fairly unsurprising.
Due to its loose and fairly nonsensical narrative, Francesca is a frustration that can only be enjoyed for its visually appealing exterior. The film’s mimicry continues to its bold use of coloured lighting and intoxicating score, that serves to emphasise the story’s lurid themes concerning broken psychologies and past terrors. Again, it’s a suitable reiteration of giallo stories that have been frequently told; where a person’s past haunts their present, leading their madness to manifest in a way that leads to violence, murder and even more insanity.
Onetti understands that the giallo is more about the surface and the sexual undertones that so obviously reside below its visible whodunnit tale of murder and mystery. The uneasy blend of sexual and violent imagery doesn’t manage to have the shock value of say, Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, because in 2017 horror audiences have been treated and exposed to much worse. However, Francesca’s depiction of violence laced with provocative sexuality bears a striking resemblance to the films it so carefully replicates.
Francesca’s most noteworthy asset – it’s love and familiarity—becomes its downfall. Francesca will be much-loved by devoted fans of giallos, but those wishing to see a reinvention or a unique touch on the sub-genre will be disappointed. The familiarity works as a pleasing comfort blanket, but for those who desire more punch and creativity will have little appreciation for Francesca’s already tried and tested formula. It’s a spot-on depiction, but a hollow one at that.
If Onetti had cared a little less about his careful replication of giallo cinema, then Francesca would have been a far more memorable and enjoyable experience. However, except for die-hard fans of these Italian thrillers, very few will fall for Francesca’s, albeit striking, but far too familiar charms. As a passionate homage Francesca ticks all the boxes, but as a work of genuine creativity it is a disappointing and tiresome feature.
Words: Jessy Williams (@JessyCritical)