Luciano and Nicolas Onetti's latest film 'Francesca' is a love letter to the giallo sub-genre. The film centers around two detectives tracking down a deranged killer inspired by Dante Alighieri's "Divine Comedy", who's murders have brought panic to a small community. In order to find their elusive target, they must dig deep into the past and solve a 15-year-old missing persons case involving the daughter of the multi-talented artist, Vittorio Visconti. However, discovering the truth to Francesca's disappearance could very well lead to their own undoing.
For people unfamiliar with the sub-genre, "Giallo" is an Italian term that covers, what many of us know to be "slasher" films (it's also one that's present in literature as well). For the most part, these works usually feature mystery elements themed in crime-fiction with a healthy bit of eroticism thrown in for good measure. It began it's momentum in the 60's, hitting it's peak in the 70's, and as such, the aesthetics of most films falling under the label's umbrella, sport a very dirty, very organic look appropriate for films of that era. As for the definition of the term itself, "Giallo" translates literally to, "yellow"; the color of labels and covers used to represent paperback mystery novels (similarly, the color green being used to represent horror and those of it's ilk). You can imagine then, with the ingredients required to make a "Giallo" film what it is, that some fantastic opportunities for horror, are afforded to directors willing to, uh, take a stab, at it.
Alright then, now that you're all caught up on history, on to the review.
If you sat me down and showed me the opening segment to 'Francesca', I would have immediately thought it was a long-lost giallo film from the 70's. This movie goes beyond just paying homage, or handling the throw-back in a cliched manner. The Onetti brothers know how to craft a film in the style they love so much, and it truly shows down to every single frame and shot. From the landscapes, set-pieces and soundtrack, to the use of color, disturbing imagery, down to the abstract violence, this is a giallo fan's wet dream.
Clocking in just under 90 minutes, the pacing of the movie flows naturally and really doesn't wear out it's welcome at all; this is definitely a case where less is more. This being a reminder of my usual gripe with a few of the older films in this category; they tend to stretch things out far too long with unnecessary padding, making it a difficult trudge to get from one significant scene to the next. Again, this is not the case with 'Francesca' (and hat's off to the Onetti brothers for showing restraint); the film knows what it is, sticks to it, and executes. Perhaps some may find the focus on "detective work" that occurs between each gruesomely satisfying kill to be a bit of a drag, or the abstract method in which the plot unfolds for us, to be incoherent, but we'd argue that's less a fault of the film and more a misunderstanding of what the film is supposed to be. These elements, no matter how detrimental they may seem to the uninitiated, are as much a staple of giallo as say, bad acting is to porn films. It's expected, and fits comfortably as part of an homage without going overboard and losing focus.
Also, it has to be said that I absolutely loved the use of the creepy doll (which is introduced to us early in the film), as a foreshadow for the kills. When you see it (and hear it), you know that the black-gloved, red-coat wearing psycho is near, and ready to kill; and although the deaths themselves aren't as over-the-top and extreme as some of the stuff found in say a Fulci or Argento film, they are still very effective. In fact, each "kill moment", from build up, to the P.O.V. shots, and carefully crafted positions of the aforementioned doll, really come to bring everything together wonderfully in that way only a giallo film can. The final scene in particular, stands as one of the strongest and most memorable, utilizing all the necessary techniques to bring us a satisfying end (with a twist that's very well done).
And that too is really how I feel about 'Francesca' as a whole. It's a solidly well-done story that isn't concerned with trying to reinvent the wheel. A film that successfully captures the feel of the best examples of the sub-genre that have preceded it; an obvious result of the love and passion it's creators have for giallo. Sure, it may not be for everyone, but for those core fans of these kind of films, its a definite hit; and for everyone else, well, we encourage a viewing and an open mind. For me, Francesca is one of the better films I've had the pleasure of viewing this year. I'm really looking forward to seeing what the Onetti brothers have in store for us next