FRANCESCA (2015) Blu-ray/DVD/CD combo
Director: Luciano Onetti
Unearthed Films

Unearthed Films brings the festival favorite giallo throwback FRANCESCA to limited edition Blu-ray/DVD/CD combo.

On the fifteenth anniversary of the disappearance of young Francesca Visconti in a burglary gone wrong, the body of a young woman is discovered in a public park with coins on her eyes and a letter composed of cut-out newspaper letters. It is the combination of the anniversary and contents of this letter, a quote from Dante's Divine Comedy, that has Inspector Bruno Moretti (Luis Emilio Rodriguez) seeing a connection since Francesca's father Vittorio (Raul Gederlini) was famous for his stage readings of the poem before he stabbed in the spine by the assailant who abducted his daughter and confined to a wheelchair. After a taunting call from the female killer who tells the police she plans to clean up the city of its sinners, Moretti and his partner Inspector Benito Succo (Gustavo Dalessanro) start looking into the pasts of the victims, including the elderly woman who saw the killer dumping the first body in the park (whose murder according to the killer's modus operandi suggests that she was picked for reasons other than being an eye witness) and a concert pianist (Juan Bautista Massolo) returning to the stage five years after the car accident that killed his wife. Meanwhile, Vittorio and Francesca's bedridden mother Nina (Silvina Grippaldi) are tormented by dreams and nightmares that paint young Francesca as a morbid child with a fascination for dead animals, sharp objects, and a hatred of her baby brother.

Less of a "neo-giallo" than the likes of Hélène Cattet's and Bruno Forzani's AMER and THE STRANGE COLOR OF YOUR BODY'S TEARS or a sendup a la the obnoxious THE EDITOR, the Italian/Argentinean co-production FRANCESCA borrows from early seventies Argento (THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE through DEEP RED), early Fulci (with some visual nods to DON'T TORTURE A DUCKLING and some very Sergio Salvati-esque rack focus shots), a little Pupi Avati circa THE HOUSE OF THE LAUGHING WINDOWS, and even perhaps a little Umberto Lenzi thrown in amidst the killer's DEEP RED-esque hallucinations of dolls, knives, toys, and mannequins. While the opening title sequence seems a bit stylistically uneven and the murder seems to fuse imagery from BIRD and TENEBRAE, much of the film is able to impressively sustain that seventies giallo feel with scope photography that is grainy and slightly faded in daytime exteriors, a combination of exploratory camera movement and odd focus on architectural details and agonized African art pieces, and jittery, jangly Ennio Morricone-esque passages amidst an otherwise prog rock-esque score. The references to Dante's Divine Comedy are not so cleverly conveyed but no less so than the plotting of some gialli (at least at the point in production when the director's visual impulses supersede the script) and the deployment of certain genre mainstays is heavy-handed (even the killer chugs J&B and the filmmakers really want you to notice a character reading a Mondadori giallo), but the film's real weakness is not in its debts to specific giallo films so much as in the bland performances, lifeless characters, a killer whose outfit looks like a cross between the red raincoat-clad specter of DON'T LOOK NOW and FEMALE CONVICT SCORPION, along with a climax that keeps trying to top itself with twist reveals. There are other things to pick at, like the lengthy opening credits sequence which consists of an alternating list of credits for director/co-writer/editor/composer Luciano Onetti and producer/co-writer/assistant director Nicolas Onetti, but you could do a lot worse when it comes to various contemporary forms of the giallo.

Unearthed Films' 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen Blu-ray probably looks as good as it can given the DSLR lensing and the heavily-skewed color correction that makes the film look like not quite "grindhouse" but somewhat a grainy, faded, and cheaply-processed release print. The post-dubbed Italian DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is not particularly dynamic in terms of dialogue or effects, covered as it is in a layer of intentional hiss with better spread given to the score throughout. There are some sync issues early on with the optional English subtitles as well as occasional spelling errors ("a casa of suicide").

The behind the scenes (14:21) looks at the film's make-up effects, the shooting of the iron-burning scene as well as the set-piece set in the Teatro Espanol of which the production was allowed free use for three days and were able to avail themselves of a piano and the theater's lighting grid, shooting on location and hiding modern signage and décor, as well as the casting of "faces" appropriate to the period. Whatever goodwill the film wins for giallo fans may be soured by the director's comments in the director and producer interview (19:48) in which the director expresses less familiarity with the genre than his producer brother, describing it as a whole as simple with "no pride or ambition in its productions" as if he was elevating the genre with originality in the earlier SONNO PROFONDO, which he claims was designed for giallo connoisseurs while FRANCESCA was meant to be more conventional to appeal to both giallo fans and wider audiences (with the nods to Dante added for the critics). Brother Nicolas is a bit more humble in his commentary but focuses heavily on the film's festival reception. The alternate opening (3:24) features a different edit of the opening flashback with titles and scoring that seems more modern while the hidden scene (2:00) is a bit of footage that also appears after the film's ending credits. Besides the film's trailer (1:42), the disc also includes trailers for the Mexican ATROZ, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BLOODSHOCK, AMERICAN GUINEA PIG: BOUQUET OF GUTS AND GORE, LILITH'S HELL (featuring an acting role for filmmaker Ruggero Deodato), and SHEEP SKIN (a DVD-only release). Also included is a thirteen track CD soundtrack and an insert booklet by Art Ettinger with a cover styled after Mondadori giallo paperbacks. (Eric Cotenas)