It's very unusual to see an award-winning actress giving her all in a small, no-budget project unlikely to receive a smidgen of the attraction her bigger-scale projects have. Kudos, then, to the great Melissa Leo for throwing herself headfirst into Melanie Shatzky and Brian Cassidy's Francine, a quasi-documental narrative fiction about an ex-con who is released into society without having really anywhere to fit into. Ms. Shatzky and Mr. Cassidy's previous projects (namely their previous feature The Patron Saints) were mostly documental, and this narrative feature makes use of their experience by following faithfully the odd, halting rhythms of Francine's return to the real world.

     A quiet, almost non-descript presence who seems to either disappear into the background or stand out because of her awkwardness, Francine seems to generate no chemistry at all with other people, coming across as a sort of dreamy, absent-minded simpleton who seems to be more at ease with animals - eventually becoming a sort of crazy cat lady whose only fulfilling jobs are those wherein she works with them (a stable, a veterinarian's practice). The wager is that the idea of following Ms. Leo's generous, brave performance as if it were a documentary will achieve a depth usually elusive in standard fictions. But despite the actress' undeniable commitment and a couple of stunning, moving scenes, Francine ends up being rather generic, even somewhat pointless; it thankfully evades the "social problem picture", but it never offers a scaffolding strong enough to build something else upon. It's a tour-de-force performance by a great actress that doesn't have enough of a film to support it, but that is reason enough to give it a look.

Cast: Melissa Leo
Directors and writers: Brian M. Cassidy, Melanie Shatzky
Cinematography: Mr. Cassidy (colour, widescreen)
Production and costume designer: Christine Cole
Editors: Mr. Cassidy, Benjamin Gray, Ms. Shatzky
Producers: Joshua Blum, Katie Stern (Washington Square Films, Pigeon Projects)
USA/Canada, 2012, 75 minutes

Screened: IndieLisboa Film Festival 2013 official competition advance streaming screener, Lisbon, April 8th 2013


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