Francesca is the first new film that I have watched in 2016. It is such a return to form for the Italian genre of giallo, which has remained pretty dormant for decades. Unless you count the surge of neo-gialli that has popped up in recent years. Neo-giallo is sort of a different animal, tho. More on that later. But, let us begin my review of the Onettis' new giallo film...shall we?
In 2013 Luciano and Nicolás Onetti gave us their feature debut...Sonno Profondo (Deep Sleep), which was an experimental giallo film that truly gave viewers something brand new from the killer's POV. While the film certainly felt more like an art piece...rather than a traditional narrative, it was a departure from the modern crop of neo-gialli. Sonno Profondo feels more like a deep meditative appreciation for the old Italian classics...rather than a blatant homage. It was the mark of a filmmaker's career that we needed to pay closer attention to. And now the Onetti brothers' have given us a film that further cements their place in the genre.
When I first watched the trailer for Francesca...it got me excited at the potential of watching something authentic-looking. It gave me the feeling as if someone, somewhere unearthed a film from the classic golden age of 1970's gialli...and released it onto the world. The film then debuted to positive reviews at the Sitges Film Festival in Barcelona, Spain. It even won the brothers a couple of awards at other festivals. To say that my interest in Francesca was piqued...would be a vast understatement. I NEEDED TO SEE THIS FILM.
So, I kept up with the progress of the film and waited for a distribution announcement of some kind. German distributor Mad Dimension announced a limited edition blu-ray/DVD combo media book...so, I flinched and ordered the film. Praying that there would be English subtitles of some kind...otherwise, I would have to enlist a German friend to translate the film for me. When the film finally arrived...I damn near tackled the mail lady and snatched the fucking package from her hand, laughing maniacally. When I opened the package...I was delighted to see that Mad Dimension went all out with this media book release. Unfortunately, everything was in German. But, then...I noticed...in tiny words on the back..."English Subtitles". I freakin' jumped for joy!
Later that evening...I promptly placed the disc in my blu-ray player and watched as the film began with gorgeous imagery and luscious soundscapes. The story begins with a mother soothing her baby as a devious young girl pokes a animal carcass just outside the house. Things take a disturbing turn for the worse...as a beautiful slo-mo shot of a pigeon in flight takes us into the opening credits. The opening moments, alone...made me tear up in happiness with the thought that I have finally found a film that has the potential of bringing giallo back into contemporary conversation. I realize that this is high praise...but, it is the truth. While most other modern examples of gialli get too caught up in the love-making that the filmmakers are having with the genre...Luciano Onetti is more interested in creating a genuine giallo film...thrilling his audience with stunning visuals and composing a pulsating soundtrack, himself, that evokes that golden era of gialli that devoted fans yearn for these days.
The premise involves a string of murders that a duo of seasoned detectives are desperately trying to solve that also involve a young girl named Francesca, daughter of a renowned poet/dramatist Vittorio Visconti, who has been missing for 15 years. Inspector Bruno Moretti and Detective Benito Succo are the two leads tasked with unraveling this case of a Dante-quoting killer on the rampage, leaving coins on the eyes of the victims. The film takes some elaborate twists, which is very impressive for its modest budget. And, I must say...the performances are rather exceptional all around...particularly from Luis Emilio Rodriguez and Gustavo Dalessanro as the two detectives. Really helps to excel the screenplay that the Onettis have written.
Being a low budget independent affair, the film is not without some minor flaws regarding some of the gore and more technical aspects. However, these particular details are actually hallmarks of the genre, so they kind of go hand-in-hand with the films more artful qualities. They almost help elevate the film to a more modern example of giallo excellence...if that makes any sense. And, it should very well make perfect sense if you are no stranger to gialli. I would also like to mention that neo-giallo feels more like giallo masturbation...rather than actual giallo. Not that that's a bad thing, necessarily. I actually love some of the more recent neo-gialli that I have seen. But, it should be noted that Francesca feels like it is working on a different level. It really funcions like the real deal...and not necessarily just a film steeped in passion for giallo but, so much more. That's what makes the old classics so great...is the fact that the original Italian filmmakers didn't necessarily know that they were creating something bigger back then. They just wanted to emulate the success of The Bird With The Crystal Plumage. Little did they know that they were creating some of the seminal works that would be cherished decades later. Francesca feels as authentic as those classics. That's about as high a praise as I can give this film.
In the end, Luciano and Nicolás Onetti have expertly crafted a killer example of giallo that is most definitely my favorite of all the newer incarnations of the genre. The film is bleeding with visuals that not only capture an era long gone...but, also add some new striking imagery into the world of giallo. Francesca truly feels like a newly discovered old Italian classic. The soundtrack is pitch perfect...and the look of it is truly exquisite, complete with solid performances throughout. Francesca is the new standard of giallo...and a bold step forward for the Onetti brothers. Sergio Martino would be very proud.
Thanks for reading,