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Frankie is in cinemas from 28 May.

So identified has Ira Sachs become with close-knit New-York-set domestic dramas (Keep the Lights On, 2012; Love Is Strange, 2014; Little Men, 2016) that it comes as something of a surprise to find him helming a Franco-Portuguese production set in the ultra-picturesque resort of Sintra, 30km outside Lisbon.

Still, there’s at least a glance or two back to one of Sachs’s pre-NY movies, Forty Shades of Blue (2005), in which Rip Torn’s boozy Memphis music producer hosts a banquet at which various family members show up, leading to confrontations.

A closer parallel, though, might be with Satyajit Ray’s rarely seen Kangchenjunga (1962), set in another hill resort (Darjeeling this time), where a rich Calcutta patriarch assembles his family, only for long-buried tensions and resentments to break out, shattering his comfortable assumptions.

Where Frankie differs from Ray’s film – and indeed from Sachs’s last three films – is that the supposedly intimate relationships around which the plot (scripted by Sachs with his regular collaborator Mauricio Zacharias) is structured feel oddly diffuse, never quite coming into convincing focus.

Frankie (2019)

The movie deploys an impressive cast: Isabelle Huppert essentially playing herself as Françoise (‘Frankie’), an international movie star; Brendan Gleeson as her husband; Jérémie Renier as her disaffected son Paul; Vinette Robinson as her step-daughter Sylvia, unhappy in her marriage; Marisa Tomei as Frankie’s friend Ilene, a hair-stylist who’s worked on her movies; Greg Kinnear as Gary, Ilene’s cinematographer boyfriend; and so on. No shortage of outstanding talent, then; yet there’s a strange lack of conviction about the performances, as if the actors haven’t quite yet found their way into their parts. Gleeson in particular is wasted, mooching about with an air of resigned melancholy.

Now and then a scene verges on dramatic intensity, as in the central clash between Frankie and the resentful Paul; but then the tension drops off again as we switch to yet another straggling encounter set amid the lush beauty of Sintra’s hilly, wooded setting. (Director of photography Rui Poças does the glorious landscape full justice.)

Given that the motive behind this family gathering is that, as we soon learn, Frankie has terminal cancer, the emotional stakes should be high. But it all feels undemandingly relaxed. Maybe the Big Apple buzz is what’s missing; a relocation to Central Park, perhaps? 

Sight & Sound June 2021

In our current issue, Mark Kermode and Prano Bailey–Bond talk Censor and the 80s British censorship massacre. Read if you dare! Plus the history of ‘video nasties’, Kelly Reichardt on First Cow, Suzanne Lindon’s Spring Blossom, the sprawling brilliance of Robert Altman’s Nashville, and vintage Jack Nicholson. Available in print and digitally.

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