5:08 PM EST, November 8, 2012
We first see Melissa Leo as the title character in "Francine" in a prison shower, readying herself for release into the outside world. This is a film of few words. The documentary-trained team of Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky, working on their first fiction feature here, allow small, incremental moments to add up. Or not.
But this examination of a fogged-in soul, and whose truest connections are made with animals, not humans, has a flinty integrity.
Francine's crimes are left to our imagination. Living in a cottage by a lake (the film was shot in New York's Hudson River Valley), she finds work at a PetSmart-type pet store and, after losing that job owing to poor-to-nonexistent customer relations, a horse stable and finally a veterinarian's office.
The movie keeps her psychological makeup a guessing game, but not in a "mystery to be solved" way. Her furtive, seemingly random sexual encounters, her friendship with the recovering alcoholic stable owner played by Keith Leonard: These and other factors in Francine's taciturn existence are tapped into place, rather than dramaturgically hammered.
Leo does wonders without saying much, and as the character burrows deeper and deeper into a hermetic life (with an ever-growing collection of dogs and cats), "Francine" portrays a woman on the socioeconomic margins and the sort of fiscal cliff that personalizes the phrase no politician can avoid these days. The filmmakers could've shaped a lot of this film differently, and perhaps better; sometimes you wish for more concision (strange thing to say about a 74-minute film, but there it is) and a sharper edge. But there's truth and authenticity in their approach. And in every wary glance Leo gives us.
'Francine' -- 3 stars
|No MPAA rating (nudity, disturbing scenes involving animals)
Running time: 1:14.
Plays: Monday-Thursday at Facets Cinematheque
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