Ira Sachs and Isabelle Huppert discuss their subtle cinematic approach to death at the Frankie press conference in Cannes
Ira Sachs’s latest film Frankie is defined by a proximity to death. Isabelle Huppert stars as the titular protagonist, a legendary actress who brings her fragmented family to the rolling hills of Sintra, Portugal, so as to find closure, to reach something definitive before the inevitable. She’s dying from cancer. It’s a subtle and melancholy tale, the sort of which has become the director’s trademark.
Sachs took many of the themes from recent personal experience. “In the last five years, I’ve witnessed death in ways that were very surprising and difficult: three different women at different ages, at different times in their life. It’s the mundane and funny things of life that keep you going till the last moment.”
“The definition of family is the connection that holds people together. I built the film for Isabelle [Huppert].”
“I wrote the character for her. She’s a really amazing person. I learned a lot from her about how to face life, her curiosity, openness, risk-taking and fearlessness. She is herself; she’s not trying to model herself in a particular way.”
Huppert was unable to answer an abstract question on the purpose of life but volunteered: “The film is about disease, death, about someone ending their life. It’s never melodramatic, and there are no great exterior signs of this disease.”
“This film is an opportunity to show disease, spirit, what goes through your mind, in a very subtle way. Ira’s camera is able to catch the thin moments and make them big.”
“I have no particular technique. This film is about being vulnerable. All of us deliver performances without decorative additions. The situation was strong enough, with the central point being that this woman is going to die. It is strong enough information around which you can build.”
“Everyone is very bare, facing this fact in the simplest way.”
Sachs suggested “suspense comes from when the family will go on without you. Intimacy with the audience comes by giving enough but not too much.”
The picturesque Portuguese location came from his childhood. “I went when I was a child, and when we went back, it was so overwhelming: the beauty and the people. I lived in Lisbon with my family for four or five months when making the film.”
On his style, Sachs noted: “We would never use cutting or a new short to emphasise emotions; emotion would come from the choreography. The audience watches the actor and the character, a theatrical style that allows a certain intimacy with the actors.”
On the imposing final shot, Sachs explained the concept and process. “We were scouting and there’s a vantage point, which could show the shape of the earth; We waited for the sun effect, and then I called out about where people should go. I recalled being a stage director, and its blocking is what makes the film.”
On the importance of wealth and class in the film Sachs pointed out that “you can’t talk about character without talking about money. There’s always a story that has to do with economic history and how that interacts with people and any particular moment. There’s a current about inheritance that is very personal and familiar to all of us.”
Finally, Sachs noted the joy of being “able to work with people for the first time in a long time. There was unity to our collaboration, a wonderful group of people who I felt I was a part of.”
Photo: Pool/ Getty Images
Frankie does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2019 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer and some clips from Frankie here: