Francesca Movie Review
Written by Becky Roberts
Released by Guante Negro Films
Directed by Luciano Onetti
Written by Luciano Onetti and Nicolás Onetti
2015, 80 minutes, Not yet rated
Frightfest English premiere on 26th August 2016
Luis Emilio Rodriguez as Inspector Bruno Moretti
Gustavo Dalessanro as Detective Benito Succo
Raul Gederlini as Vittorio Visconti
Silvina Grippaldi as Nina Visconti
Nothing thrives on nostalgia quite like the horror genre, so it’s perhaps not surprising that the Giallo genre – a distinctive stylistic form of Italian ‘whodunit’ mystery that peaked in the 1970s – has resurfaced to permeate European cinema.
Neo-Giallos have prospered this side of the millennium; we’ve had the stunningly glossy homages Amer (2009) and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (2013); the both tribute-paying and Giallo-deconstructing dark psychodrama Berberian Sound Studio (2012); and the more absurdly over-the-top pastiche Tulpa (2012).
Francesca, the second Giallo from Argentine-based brothers Luciano and Nicolás Onetti, is in many ways a very different beast to its modern genre comrades. Like the brothers’ 2013 debut Sonno Profondo (or Deep Sleep), it’s set in the '70s, this time following two police detectives on the hunt for a brutal serial killer who’s seemingly inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy to rid the world of impure souls. To do so they must dig up the case of a renowned artist’s missing daughter who disappeared fifteen years ago.
It’s unmistakably '70s Giallo, so much so that it wouldn’t look out of place screened among the genre’s most celebrated works of the era – not just in the brazen stylistic elements and more idiosyncratic tropes that define the genre – the killer’s leather gloves, long coat and obscured face; the meticulous camera work: dramatic zoom-ins, lingering yet withholding close-ups, and cut-aways for kills; off-screen violence and abrasive dialogue – but also with regards to the decade too, from cars to clothes to gramophones, and curtains that probably still hang in your nan’s living room.
It’s top marks for authenticity; the Onetti brothers pay attention to every detail, with nothing visually transcendent drawing you away from the nostalgia-inducing experience. For that, Giallo enthusiasts will find as much to appreciate as they would in a re-watch of Dario Argento’s masterpiece, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage (1970).
Completing the vivid viscerals is the almost ever-present and equally integral music, from the classical piano pieces – sometimes frenzied, sometimes dripping – that denote impending violence, to the climatic organs and frenetic electrics depicting the killer’s erotic desires, the highly-charged moments of sexualization enhanced by the domination of the colour red and characteristically symbolic visual cues.
An unquestionable exercise in style, Francesca arguably sides more with that than substance, delivering a narrative that doesn’t quite captivate as much as the greats (from Mario Bava, Argento and Lucio Fulci) that the Onetti brothers are clearly inspired by. Although not always the most discerning, the whodunit mystery is well sustained and the arousing suspicion that things aren’t always what they seem leaves the finale with some nourishment. A clever bit of gender bending proves it isn’t afraid to gently swerve the subgenre’s concrete formula too.
But predominantly Francesca sticks to the rulebook and is all the fresher for it. While it may not have stood out against the talent forty years ago, in some ways you can’t help but wish this was the kind of film Argento himself was still making.
It’s clear the Onetti brothers are out to make their mark, and Francesca is a masterclass for nostalgia-seeking Giallo fans, even if it may well be the film to inspire their magnum opus, rather than be it.