Films need to have a visual language. All of the great movies, big budget or small, rely on more than simply dialogue to communicate a story. A good director will have various visual techniques at their disposal, from camera movement to costume design, to establish or elaborate on character, plot and theme. Even the movie layman, unversed in editing or cinematography, can subconsciously but accurately decipher a well-made film’s emotional intentions simply by how the scenes are framed – for example, close-ups are typically reserved for sympathetic characters, a powerful villain is established from a low angle, handheld (or shaky-cam) will indicate imbalance or danger, and shadows or dim lighting can even be morally expressionistic.
Close-ups are particularly important for drama cinema, because characters’ relatability is the genre’s primary crutch. It’s all the more conflicting, then, that Frankie rejects any such visual language – and the results are just as static and monotonous as one would expect. Director Ira Sachs’s strange fixation on still dialogue scenes that strictly occur in mid-long shot, often in a single unedited take, almost amounts to a total waste of a movie, serving not the filmmakers, nor the audience or actors, the latter of whom save Frankie from total tedium. Brendan Gleeson, Marisa Tormei, Greg Kinnear (who impresses as a frustrated director) and other impeccable talents join the effortless Isabelle Huppert (in the titular role), who, after a crushing cancer diagnosis, assembles her disjointed family for a final holiday in Portugal.
The plot is a basic conflict-resolution domestic drama about dysfunctional characters who must individually “find themselves” before they can respect each other. It’s a familiar scenario either way, but could have been significantly improved with some technical variety. Some welcome atmosphere is induced by the misty Portuguese landscape, but every spark of inventiveness (chiefly thanks to the flawless cast) is squandered by a shocking lack of cinematic finesse. It’s bizarre that, even after acquiring such a stellar cast, Sachs didn’t try making something that would be worth their time. Hopefully they got a nice holiday out of it.
Frankie is released digitally on demand on 28th May 2021.
Watch the trailer for Frankie here: