SXSW FILM 2012
By Don Simpson | March 15, 2012
Directors: Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky
Writers: Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky
Starring: Melissa Leo, Keith Leonard, Victoria Charkut, Laurent Rejto, Dave Clark
Sometimes a great film is the product of pure, dumb luck; and Francine is one of those films. We will never know what this film would have been without Melissa Leo in the titular lead, instead we will only know this film by the masterful performance that Leo contributes. The story goes that Leo was not pursued by the directors, she responded to a general casting call posted by the Hudson Valley Film Commission. With an Oscar under her belt, Leo could have taken countless other roles that would have paid much higher wages; but we can only assume that Francine struck Leo as a character she needed to fully immerse herself in.
Francine begins with Francine’s last day in prison. It seems she has been locked away for a long time, though the crime she committed is left unspoken. Francine moves into a small cottage near the water and finds a series of jobs — at a pet store, in the stables of a polo club, at a veterinarian’s office.
Yes, Francine loves animals. She begins to collect them, as if to create a close-knit family, one that only knows unbridled love and affection. Eventually, Francine’s home becomes one of those homes, one in which too many animals are given too much freedom in too confined of a space. (Thank goodness smell-o-vision was not used in the making of Francine!)
As Francine tepidly integrates herself back into society, she begins to develop friendships. This is the crux of Francine, a cinema verite portrayal of a woman struggling to become a member of the free world. As awesome as Leo’s performance is, Francine‘s strength is in its uncanny sense of realism — the real people, the real places, the real events. This is essentially a documentary from the perspective of a fictional character.