Film Review: FRANKIE (France/Portugal 2019)

Frankie Poster

Three generations grappling with a life-changing experience during one day of a vacation in Sintra, Portugal, a historic town known for its dense gardens and fairy-tale villas and palaces.


Ira Sachs


Ira Sachs (screenplay), Mauricio Zacharias (screenplay)

Clearly playing a role written specially fro her, Academy Award nominee French actress Isabelle Huppert play a famous French actress like herself, who gathers her extended family for one last summer vacation.  

The film is set in Portugal’s Sintra, made even more beautiful by cinematographer Ruiz Pocas, with repeated scenes of idyllic mountainside town with lush forests.  The characters move around on cobble-stoned pavements in an ancient looking town.

There is not much story or purpose in the film except to glorify Huppert who probably does not need any more glorification.  The simple story unfolds over a day, when the audience learns around the film’s half way mark that Frankie (Huppert) has only a few months to live.  This is likely an excuse for Frankie to put her family affairs in order, which includes sorting out her son and other family members.  

Frankie’s husband (Brendan Gleeson) loves her dearly.   Director Sachs (LOVE IS STRANGE and LITTLE MEN) includes an uncomfortable love scene where Gleeson and Huppert embrace with their clothes off in bed.  (She is too slim and tanned while he too pale and large.)  To add to Frankie’s afflictions, she has other family problems.   Her ex-husband (Pascal Greggory) has moved on, her stepdaughter (Vinette Robinson) is contemplating a divorce and Frankie’s son (Jérémie Renier one of the best looking young French actors here sporting the ugliest moustache) is at loose ends.  Frankie thinks her son would be a good match for her hairdresser (Marisa Tomei), except the latter shows up with her boyfriend (Greg Kinnear).  There is nothing really urgent about these family matters, and the script by Sachs and co-writer Mauricio Zacharias does not attempt to edge the audience either.

Sachs past films have all been made or centred in New York.  This is his first film in Europe.  In one scene, the characters talk about New York when it is mentioned that the city is not what it used to be as most of the favourite restaurants have closed except for one.  Maybe you can just keep going to that one is the reply.  Maybe that is one of the reasons Sachs have ventured to Europe for this latest offering.

The film could do with more and much needed drama as well as humour.  Humour is light.  When Frankis is admonished for swimming topless in the pool, she says not to worry as she is photogenic.  Nothing really funny nor amusing about this line of dialogue.  There are lots of these going on in the movie.

Performances are best described as relaxed.  Audiences have seen Huppert and Gleeson in better films that showcase their talents.

There is no death scene or any hint of Frankie’s cancer suffering, which makes this her illness hard to believe.

The lack of material can be best observed in the closing segment where character slowly walk down a hill – the segment lasting a full 5 minutes or so.

FRANKIE debuted in competition at Cannes this year but failed to garnish much fanfare.