Movies: Francesca (2015)

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a massive fan of giallo movies; the whole look and vibe of them transports me to a happy place. So it always makes me squeal with excitement when a modern filmmaker shares my obsession with them enough to make a giallo-tinged film in the present day. Some “neo-giallo” movies I’ve enjoyed recently have included In Fabric, Berberian Sound Studio, and The Neon Demon, and I also absolutely adored the 2014 Canadian giallo parody/loving homage, The Editor.

The thing about those movies, though, is that while they take many of the aspects of giallo that fans know and love—the twisty murder mysteries, the striking and lurid color palettes, the beautifully grotesque kills, the bizarre and jarring scores—and either put them in a modern setting, or set them in the past even though they’re still clearly modern movies, it’s much rarer to see a present-day giallo movie that is making every effort to look like an actual “lost” giallo from the genre’s heyday.

Enter Argentinian brothers Luciano and Nicolás Onetti. These two love giallo films so much that it seems their entire filmmaking aesthetic is to try to make movies that look eerily like giallo flicks that could have come out in the 1970s. They made one in 2013 called Sonno Profondo (aka Deep Sleep), and though I haven’t seen that one yet, the poster for it looks EXACTLY like something you would have seen advertising one of Dario Argento’s early films back in the day.

And then, in 2015, they made Francesca, the film we’re talking about here. This movie looks so much like a 70s-era giallo that it just delighted me from the very first frame, and the poster art for this one is also rad as hell.

Seriously, you guys, it’s all here: the killer wearing leather gloves, the super saturated colors, the queasy close-ups of inanimate objects, the shiny knife blades, the childhood trauma, the bold font in the credits, the out-of-sync Italian dubbing, the ubiquitous bottles of J&B in the background of several scenes…I mean, it’s uncanny. There’s even been some kind of filter or film grain or something applied that makes the movie look a tad grotty, for added verisimilitude. It’s incredible how much attention to detail went into making Francesca look as much like a giallo from decades ago as possible, and I was there for it.

So, all that’s great, but what is the movie about, you might ask? In the tradition of all the classics of the genre, it’s a murder mystery with several red herrings, shady motivations, seemingly nonsensical plot threads, and all of the other stuff you would expect from a film of this type. Please note, however, that, like many of the gialli from “olden times,” the plot isn’t the most important aspect of the film; don’t get me wrong, there is one, and it does make sense when the mystery is resolved, but on the whole, I would advise going into Francesca more as a sensory experience, for the gorgeous visuals, the unsettling score and sound design, and just the overall ambience of the thing. Note also that while there is some dialogue where necessary, it’s generally fairly sparse.

At the very beginning of the film, we’re introduced to the Visconti family, consisting of mom Nina, dad Vittorio, daughter Francesca (who looks about twelve or so), and a baby boy. From the jump, you know Francesca is a bit of a miscreant, because she’s first shown stabbing a bird’s corpse with a big silver spike and laughing about it. Then the situation escalates markedly when she subsequently uses the same spike to stab her baby brother right in the eye as soon as her mother’s back is turned. Cue the mom screaming and screaming and screaming…

Then we jump ahead fifteen years. Apparently, Francesca was kidnapped by a masked home invader shortly after the baby-stabbing incident, and she has been missing ever since. Francesca’s father Vittorio was shanked in the spine during the attack as he tried to rescue his daughter, and is now confined to a wheelchair, while Nina has never recovered from the tragedy and has pretty much checked out, lying in bed with a thousand-yard stare.

Meanwhile, the streets of Rome begin to play host to a mysterious killer who leaves rare coins on the eyes of their victims and plants cut-up, ransom-style notes near the bodies, featuring quotes from Dante’s Divine Comedy. An older woman walking her dog in the park sees the killer dumping a victim, and describes the perpetrator as a woman clad in a red jacket, reddish-orange leather gloves, a black skirt, and a black hat and veil covering the face.

As the bodies pile up, the two detectives assigned to the case, Succo and Moretti, start to realize that most of the victims had some kind of scandal or secret in their past, and also that the killings might be linked to the disappearance of Francesca Visconti, fifteen years ago. Because her father Vittorio is a Dante scholar, the police bring him in on the investigation, and even though as the movie goes on it seems pretty clear who the killer is, the plot actually has a few surprises up its sleeve. Oh, and be sure to watch until after the credits, because there’s a bit of a creepy bonus scene at the very end.

Fans of giallo films of the past will probably love this; it’s an almost dead-on recreation of a classic example of the genre from the early 1970s, and the artistry and meticulous theming that went into it are quite breathtaking. For those not versed in the visual and auditory language of giallo, it might be a harder sell; I feel like people not familiar with the tropes might not get much out of it, but then again, what do I know? As I mentioned, there is a decent and well-constructed mystery here, but the look and feel of the movie is really where it shines; it’s so immersive and otherworldly and dreamlike that I found it really easy to get swept up in it.

I will definitely be checking out the Onetti brothers’ other films, which aside from the previously mentioned Sonno Profondo also include another giallo from 2018 called Abrakadabra, and a 2017 slasher titled What the Waters Left Behind. I’m always so ecstatic when I discover new (to me) artists whose stuff I vibe with so much, so I’m glad I stumbled across this film on my wanderings around the internet.

Until next time, keep it creepy, my friends.

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