CIFF REVIEW: Frankie

Frankie is one of those films where it seems like nothing much happens yet what it concerns itself with are things we sometimes take for granted. It’s a very introspective film concerning life, death, and how it’s difficult to navigate both. This is especially poignant considering it is from the perspective of a group of people who have a close relationship with someone who is dying and how these things should be savored and even celebrated.

The great french actress Isabelle Huppert stars as the title character, a film actress who is dying of cancer. She isn’t given much longer to live so she has decided to invite her family and close friends to a gathering located in a Portuguese village. Each person is struggling with their own inner turmoil, or ennui as the french say, sometimes directly related to Frankie and sometimes not. Along for the trip is her husband Jimmy (A quietly heartbreaking Brendan Gleeson), the person who is probably having the most difficulty coming to terms with his wife’s imminent death. There is also Frankie’s troublesome son Paul (Jeremie Renier), a financially irresponsible man, but also bitter and sad. Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), a daughter from a previous marriage, who is contemplating divorcing her husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare), while their daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua) wants to ditch the family gathering and have an adventure of her own. Finally rounding out the clan is Frankie’s American friend Ilene (A very witty Marisa Tomei), a hair and make-up artist who comes with her unwelcome boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear), a cinematographer who is working on the current Star Wars film, and who has marriage on his mind.

Director Ira Sachs takes his time with each character, usually pairing them off together into a string of conversations not directly related but giving the film a nice, leisurly paced structure. These conversations don’t necessarily concern themselves with any giant reveals or hidden secrets, rather they are content with witty dialogue, and genuine reactions by the characters. By the end of the film, we see some lives change, and some stay the same, but life will move along as it always has. This film illustrates this sentiment with a beatiful final wide shot where each person exits the frame one by one, as if their existence will go on outside of the film, yet we were privy to this one moment in time for each of them.

Frankie feels like a light and breezy film made for adults who just want to watch other adults interact, sometimes that’s all that is required. I found a sense of relaxation from this film in the way it slows things down for the viewer. Once I eased into the idle pace and quiet tone, I felt no need to feel rushed or bothered with distractions from the outside world. I was able to just sit and enjoy the characters interact wishing this enjoyment wouldn’t end. It was almost as if I could feel my blood pressure lowering, and my tension spots loosening while I watched this film, as if nothing else mattered and I could remain in contentment.

The Portuguese setting makes for an idyllic vista, and an escape of sorts from the mundane urban jungles we see so often in films. It feels more real and tangible, like a breath of fresh air. It reminded me of Richard Linklater’s Before trilogy which was also about conversation but the fact that the backdrop is a beautiful foreign locale makes it more lived in, like a holiday of sorts.

Indeed when you leave Frankie you may feel a certain bit of sadness. This comes not so much from anything tragic that happens, but rather because the film will be over, and you then have to resume living your life without the pleasant company of the characters who filled your time in the theatre so fully. It’s very much like going to a friends house for dinner and enjoying the visit, perhaps finishing off a bottle of wine, but then looking at your watch, knowing all good things must come to an end. I suppose Frankie the film and Frankie the character are there to remind us that such pleasures in life can be fleeting, but it’s nice to soak it in while we still have the chance.

4 stars out of 5

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