Francesca

| October 7, 2016

Unearthed Films has made a name for themselves among fans of extreme and underground horror with their releases of international films like the Guinea Pig series (and recently producing the American Guinea Pig films), but their latest release is something of a change of pace for the company. Two years ago, BRINKVision released Luciano and Nicolas Onetti’s debut feature Sonno Profondo (Deep Sleep) in the States. That film was an intriguing take on the neo-giallo, made with a cast of maybe three people and a pitch-perfect score that recalled the soundtracks of those Italian thrillers. Now Unearthed Films has released the brothers’ follow-up Francesca, which in some ways feels like the main event for which Sonno Profondo was a warm-up.

Fifteen years after the mysterious disappearance of literature expert Vittorio Visconti’s (Raul Gederlini) daughter Francesca, a series of murders occur in the city where the family lives. Each of the victims is found with ancient coins placed over their eyes and a cut-and-pasted note with a passage from Dante’s Inferno. Inspector Bruno Moretti (Luis Emilio Rodriguez) and Detective Benito Succo (Gustavo Dallesanro) are on the case, but the pressure is on to catch this killer before the city goes into a full-on panic. Whoever the killer is, they’re not only bloodthirsty and cruel but extremely meticulous. The bodies keep piling up and the police seem to have nothing to go on but this strange obsession with the Inferno. But who’s to say even that’s not another red herring placed by the ingenious killer?

Like Sonno Profondo, Francesca is obsessed with the minutiae of the giallo almost to the exclusion of its characters. This is much more traditionally narrative than the first film, but most of the running time is devoted to loving close-ups of leather gloves, vintage gadgets, beautiful costumes, and locations that recall the giallo’s heyday. This is actually highly impressive given that the film was shot in the 2010s in Argentina and not 1970s Italy. The widescreen image is heavily treated to look not like film exactly, but almost more like the texture of the kind of Kodachrome slides the killer entertains themselves with in the film. Primary colors pop and extreme close-ups give more detail than a typical giallo would be comfortable with in its actors’ faces. It’s a unique look that doesn’t exactly replicate the style of giallo films but treats them as a whole as one more fetish object that the Onetti Brothers filter through their sensibilities.

That sensibility includes another dead-on score that sounds like it could have been lifted from films of the period like the scores of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani’s Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears, another pair of modern films that use the giallo as inspiration. It’s an uncanny replica of the scores of those films, and stands on its own as an impressive tribute. It’s hard to say much about the performances here, as the actors are almost as much props as the ancient camera and tape recorder that act as key visual references throughout the film. Francesca is less about characters and story and more about the world in which they exist. This approach extends to the reveal at the end of the film, which appropriately leaves a number of major questions unanswered. In any other film it would feel like a cheat, but here it feels inevitable. Francesca is an intriguing tribute to giallo cinema, but viewers who are looking for a traditionally satisfying mystery will likely find it frustrating. Anyone obsessed with the stitching in vintage giallo costumes, on the other hand, should probably just buy this immediately.

Unearthed Films released Francesca in a deluxe limited edition Blu-ray/DVD/CD set on 27 September 2016. Special features include deleted scenes, a behind the scenes featurette, and an interview with Luciano and Nicolas Onetti. The complete soundtrack is included on the CD, and the set also includes an essay by Art Ettinger of Ultra Violent magazine in a mock-giallo booklet.

About the Author:

Jason Coffman is a film writer living in Chicago. He is author of "The Unrepentant Cinephile," and a regular contributor to Daily Grindhouse and Film Monthly as well as a member of the Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. He is co-director of the Chicago Cinema Society and proud owner of 35mm prints of Andy Milligan's "Guru, the Mad Monk." Follow his long-form film writing on Medium: www.medium.com/@rabbitroom

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