Francesca: Limited Collector's Edition [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Unearthed Films
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (12th February 2017).
The Film

With a retro, “return to the glory days” ethos being so prevalent these days, and with filmmakers having more tools at their disposal than ever, it only seems fitting that pictures paying homage to celebrated subgenres of horror have been on the rise. Some are done straight while others are done with a more tongue-planted-firmly-in-cheek tone – either way movies that are bound to the past also toe a fine line between slavish reproduction and originality. The giallo subgenre enjoyed a boon in the 70's that saw dozens of films released featuring the requisite staples – black-gloved killers, extreme gore, incredible scores, convoluted plots, creepy dolls, and J&B Scotch. Lately, filmmakers have been paying respect to the giallo with films like “Amer” (2009), “The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears” (2013), “The Editor” (2014), and “Francesca” (2015), the latter of which comes from a pair of brothers – Luciano and Nicolás Onetti – operating out of Argentina.

There are so many facets of giallo “Francesca” gets right it makes the things that are wrong more glaring. Unlike, say, “The Editor”, which nailed the trappings of giallo but erred on the side of comedy, “Francesca” is so deftly shot, color graded, and lit viewers could be forgiven for thinking it comes from the 70's. The story, however, is where things get murky. Gialli have never been known for their clear narratives, but “Francesca” is a film that seems like it was shot as a series of giallo homage moments that were then cut together into feature-length. There is a huge portion of the film where viewers may be left to wonder if anyone – including those behind the camera- know what is happening. The plot does get wrapped up a bit more coherently once the climax has been reached but it’s a bit of a slog to get there.

A serial killer is on the loose, eluding the police every step of the way. Even eyewitness accounts provide very little information, other than to state the killer appears to be a woman, dressed in red and wearing a veil. The murders being committed are brutal, with each victim having coins placed over their eyes after death. Letters found at the crime scene taunt law enforcement. The cops have leads that are tenuous, though one does seem promising after they speak with Vittorio Visconti (Raul Gederlini), a playwright who was confined to a wheelchair fifteen years ago when a killer stabbed him in the spine and abducted his daughter, Francesca. That age old case may provide the link detectives need to solve the current series of murders, and Visconti’s story may not be as sympathetic as he has led everyone to believe.

Story truly is secondary in “Francesca”, a movie that does everything in order to sell the verisimilitude of a classic giallo without tipping its hat to let viewers know this is a modern movie. Unless you have the sort of trained eye that can spot digital photography easily (as I suspect this was shot digitally) then odds are you’ll be fooled into thinking this is something produced during the heyday of Dario Argento, Mario Bava, Sergio Martino, etc. The Onetti’s have managed to reproduce the cinematic style of that period, with a high contrast image filled with film grain and cinematography virtually identical to similar films. This deserves a great deal of credit since so few filmmakers have successfully imitated giallo movies to such a respectful degree; usually there is some giveaway to clue viewers in that this is a new production. The inclusion of giallo staples – black gloves, scary dolls, J&B Scotch, horrific deaths, POV shots, expansive estates, a Goblin-esque score – all felt organic, too, and not as though the Onetti’s were concerned with cramming every wink-and-nod element into their film.

Still, visual pleasantries aren’t enough to sustain an entire film and the lack of a strong story, even in this 80-minute feature, will be enough to make most viewers start checking out. “Francesca” feels like something that would have worked better as a short; being stretched out to feature length, it starts to wear out its welcome as it nears the hour mark. One positive in addition to the aesthetics is the score, which is also composed by Luciano Onetti. Taking cues from Goblin, the soundtrack makes use of sounds both synthetic and organic. Just as the film is a visual duplicate of 70's pictures, so, too, is the score an audible carbon copy of scores done by the likes of Goblin and Bruno Nicolai. Onetti has done a great job of capturing the sound and style of those seminal scores, and Unearthed Films has done a great service by providing buyers with a CD copy inside this package.

Video

The 2.35:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded image is intended to mimic those giallo films of the 70's, so expect to see a picture that is severely color graded, with high contrast, variable definition, and a fine sheen of faux film grain. Colors are deeply saturated, nearly to the point of bleeding, but the image is fairly stable. Fine detail is present but not overly impressive, with the best moments appearing during daylight shots.

Audio

It sounds like the levels have been cranked up to “11” on the Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 stereo track. Many of the sound effects and some bits of dialogue are piercing, though the power of the track does bode well for Onetti’s score. Dialogue isn’t aged like the picture, thankfully, so all of the dialogue comes through cleanly and with (mostly) strong levels. There are a few moments of “bad dubbing” and minor hissing, but these are intentional and don’t reflect poorly on the fidelity. Subtitles are available in English.

Extras

The three-disc set (Blu-ray/DVD/CD) is presented as a Limited Edition in an attractive, if not overly-large, package.

DISC ONE: BLU-RAY

“Behind the Scenes” (1080p) is a featurette that runs for 14 minutes and 21 seconds, showing an overview of the production and featuring a few interviews.

Deleted Scene is an alternate beginning (1080p) runs for 3 minutes and 24 seconds.

“Interview – Luciano and Nicolás Onetti” (1080p), this interview runs for 19 minutes and 48 seconds, the brothers sit down to discuss their work and influences.

Hidden Scene (1080p) runs for 2 minutes and 1 second.

DISC TWO: DVD

This is a standard definition DVD copy of the film.

DISC THREE: CD

This is the film’s score on CD. There are 13 tracks in total.

A booklet is included, tucked inside a flap under the front cover.

Packaging

The three-disc set comes housed in a DVD-sized digi-pack that folds open to reveal each disc on its own platter.

Overall

Faithful, perhaps to a fault, “Francesca” is likely to be enjoyed most by fervent fans of the giallo subgenre. Even then, those same viewers may find this is another case of style over substance but, hey, at least it’s some damn good style.

The Film: C Video: B+ Audio: B Extras: C Overall: C+

 


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