Ira Sachs’ drama, Frankie, which opens in Canada on November 8, stars Isabelle Huppert as a famous French actress who invites her family, an ex-husband and a friend to Portugal for what may be a final summer vacation.
This appealing film, set in the wooded mountains and sandy beaches of the rustic resort of Sintra, unfolds against the backdrop of developing personal relationships.
Frankie (Huppert) and her loving husband, Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), are enjoying a holiday in a rented villa with a view. As Frankie unzips her bra before plunging into a swimming pool on the manicured grounds, her step granddaughter, Maya (Sennia Nanua) warns her of prying eyes from the windows of the house. She couldn’t care less that she’s topless. “I’m very photogenic,” she says insouciantly.
Although Frankie has entered her twilight years, she is still a femme fatal, and is well aware of her attributes. Yet she is gripped by sadness, indicative of something gnawing at her.
Paul (Jeremie Renier), Frankie’s adult son, seems to be at loose ends. He misses his former girlfriend, and he’s on the verge of starting afresh in New York City. Michel (Pascal Greggory), Frankie’s first husband, has moved on, but he has fond memories of their times together. “I thought I’d be with her forever,” he says nostalgically.
Illene (Marisa Tomei), Frankie’s old friend, is a hair stylist in the film industry. Frankie hopes that Paul and Illene can hook up, but Paul is really interested in Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), Frankie’s stepdaughter, whose marriage to Ian (Ariyon Bakare) is on shaky ground.
In any event, Illene is spoken for. Her boyfriend, Gary (Greg Kinnear), has accompanied her to Sintra. Gary, a filmmaker, presents Illene with a ring as a token of his affection. “I want to be with you,” he says. “Is this a proposal?” she asks. “I guess it is,” he says, fumbling for words. “Let’s see where we are before we plan the future,” she says, pouring cold water on his idea.
These are the background stories that invigorate this modest but compelling movie. They blend in seamlessly with scenic vistas of Sintra, which exudes old-world charm and serenity. The camera, too, pans on lovely sun-washed beaches and on walls adorned with the exquisite Arabesque blue tilework for which Portugal is renowned.
As Frankie heads toward its denouement, Sylvia and Ian bicker, Gary offers Frankie a role in a film he intends to make, and Maya meets a personable Portuguese young man on a streetcar.
Two scenes, in particular, add heft to the storyline.
Venting frustration with Paul, Frankie complains that he’s shown no appreciation for her kindness. Validating her claim, Paul, in a childish fit, throws an expensive Italian bracelet she’s just given him as a keepsake into the woods.
As Frankie walks with Illene in a forest, Frankie has a seizure and falls to the ground. Then, in an unguarded moment, Frankie reveals a secret about her health that speaks volumes about her reason for having invited all these people to Sintra.
Sachs has chosen his cast with care. From Huppert on down, they deliver credible performances that endow Frankie with an aura of verve and sensitivity.