Currently playing for a limited time at the Museum of Modern Art, “Francine” is the creation of filmmaking duo Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky. The film stars Academy Award-winner Melissa Leo as Francine, a middle-aged woman struggling to adjust to normal life after serving time in a women’s correctional facility.
The opening scene shows Francine in a prison shower. She seems peaceful and relaxed until the water abruptly shuts off, reminding her that she has no control over her life. Freedom brings her little comfort — she is overwhelmed by noise and unnerved by everyday social interactions. Her anxiety subsides only when she is around animals.
Not much is revealed about Francine. The immediate questions of why she was imprisoned and whether she has a family are never answered, and her future plans are never revealed. Francine is as guarded with the audience as with the other characters. Consequently, the movie’s lack of personality and direction make for a dull character study that feels much longer than its actual 74-minute running time.
Luckily for Cassidy and Shatzky, Leo breathes some much-needed life into the story. As Francine feeds her dogs and brushes horses at a local barn, her gentle, restrained emotions hint at thoughts and feelings she cannot bring herself to show to others.
Unfortunately, Leo’s performance doesn’t overcome the film’s many inconsistencies. Francine’s relationships with other people alternate between distant and intimate without any explanation or pattern, and her ultimate deterioration is so quick and borderline-nonsensical that the viewer is left feeling just as confused as Francine.
The inconsistency also extends to the production of the film. Motifs appear in the first half of the movie but don’t pay off in the conclusion. Microphones and film equipment are visible, lights are not well-balanced and the sound goes from near-silent to jarringly loud without any pattern or purpose. Cassidy has explained that emotional truth was a higher priority than production value when they were shooting the film, but one must wonder why the director had to choose between the two.
Ultimately, “Francine” showcases a solid performance from Leo, but the film has little else to offer. It is not entertaining enough to satisfy mass audiences, and its technical elements are too sloppy to impress film buffs.
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Sept. 11 print edition. Suzanne Egan is a contributing writer. Email her at email@example.com.
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