Monday, October 31, 2016

Francesca: Giallo Love for Halloween

Say what you will about the Italian giallo thriller-horror genre, but its characters sure knew how to accessorize. They always knew how to kill in style, rocking their patented leather gloves, wide-brimmed hats, leather belts, shiny rain coats, and fetish-friendly boots and pumps. Many of those things are also useful for concealing one’s identity, so the killer, who may or may not be a child abducted fifteen years ago, dons the classic giallo wardrobe in director-editor-cinematographer-composer Luciano Onetti’s Francesca, which is now available in a DVD/BluRay collector’s set, from Unearthed Films, just in time for Halloween.

Someone is killing the morally questionable citizens of Rome, leaving behind heavy passages from Dante’s Divine Comedy and antique coins on their eyes, presumably to pay their passage to Hell. Inspector Bruno Moretti and Det. Benito Succo are on the case, but their investigatory methods mainly seem to involve shooting pool and drinking J&B whiskey (a name brand staple of 1970s Giallos). Despite these efforts, the killer continues to elude them.

On the anniversary of Francesca Visconti’s abduction, Moretti visits her wheelchair-bound poet-dramatist father Visconti, ostensibly to glean some insights into Dante’s vision of justice, but really to ask about his long missing daughter. For reasons never really established (aside from this being a giallo), Moretti suspects the two cases might be linked.

In terms of cinematography and art direction, Francesca looks like it was pulled out of a giallo time capsule sealed in the seventies. Every visual detail is lovingly crafted. However, the picture’s incredible look cannot mask the shortcomings of the Italian-Argentine Onetti Brothers’ screenplay (helmer Luciano and producer Nicol├ís), which is thin even by the standards of the sub-genre. It also telegraphs the primary villain way in advance (although there are a few surprises regarding murky secondary figures in the third act).

Arguably, Francesca represents a weird acting challenge, since the cast presumably knew they would be awkwardly redubbed in Italian, deliberately on purpose. With that in mind, probably Gustavo Dalessanro displays the most intriguing screen presence as the slightly compromised Det. Succo.

As a feat of lurid cinematography, Francesca is quite a remarkable accomplishment. L. Onetti’s dark, proggy score (included as a CD in the 3-disk set) also suits the sub-genre to a tee. Yet, as a neo-retro-giallo narrative, the affectionate Astron-6 spoof The Editor is ironically more engaging. This is definitely a case of style favored over substance. Viewers should note there is a stinger, but it features some of the film’s most disturbing violent images, so watch according to your tastes. Recommended for hardcore giallo enthusiasts who will not object to its excesses, Francesca is now available for home viewing, from Unearthed Films and distributor MVD.