Isabelle Huppert as Frankie

Having made films with more than a hint of the French about them – character driven, focused on metropolitan angst, loose, semi-improvised acting style, unafraid to let nothing happen – Ira Sachs finally gets almost all of the way there with Frankie, a drama set in Portugal but with plenty of French speakers in his cast.

Patrice Chéreau’s 1998 drama Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train (Ceux Qui M’aiment Prendront le Train) is a close analogue, though here the central figure around which everything spins is still alive. She’s played by Isabelle Huppert as Françoise (aka Frankie), a famous actress who has called all her family together in Sintra, Portugal, for some yet-to-be-explained reason, though it isn’t hard to guess what it might be.

Pascal Greggory plays Frankie’s first husband and Sachs uses him more as a lucky charm – he was in Those Who Love Me Can Take the Train – than as an important character. As Michel, now a happily out gay man, he’s part of Frankie’s extended and blended family, including her second husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), her son Paul (Jérémie Renier), Jimmy’s daughter Sylvia (Vinette Robinson), Sylvia’s husband Ian (Ariyon Bakare) and their daughter Maya (Sennia Nanua).

Floating around the edges is Frankie’s old friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei) and her on/off boyfriend Gary (Greg Kinnear) both of whom, we are told more often than seems necessary, are in Europe working on the latest Star Wars movie.

Relationships in various states of decay is Sachs’s abiding concern and they’re what gives this drama what little tension it has… eventually. Though everything constellates around Frankie, at the edges Paul is lovelorn, Sylvia and Ian’s marriage is in tatters, Gary is like a bull at a gate with the unconvinced Ilene, and young Maya is off at the beach, where a lusty local is giving her her first taste of the thing that’s causing most everyone else such grief. Frankie and Jimmy, meanwhile, are blissfully happy. But even there Sachs (and regular co-writer Mauricio Zacharias) does eventually raise a little question mark.

Marisa Tomei and Isabelle Huppert
Ilene and Frankie

Having been a fan of Sachs’s films since I first saw 2005’s Forty Shades of Blue, I wanted Frankie to work but it didn’t, or not often enough. Too many scenes felt awkward, as if improvisation as a guiding principle had just been taken too far, when what was really needed was for someone to shout “cut”, offer some notes to struggling actors and then go again. Quite why all the characters so often needed to shout was a mystery too.

That said, there are some fabulous moments that do just work – Huppert and Gleeson just sitting down at a piano together, saying barely a word, the long-delayed moment when Tomei’s Ilene and Renier’s Paul finally meet, for what the matchmaking Frankie is hoping will be the beginning of a love affair.

These moments come mostly towards the end. While Sachs is simultaneously wrapping up and suggesting that life goes on, the drama suddenly takes wing, almost as if on its own, in a couple of scenes notable for what’s not said rather than what is.

Huppert glides through the whole thing, partly because her character, Frankie, is one of those blithe spirits, partly because Huppert tends to glide, and partly because there really isn’t a whole lot of stuff going on, apart from the BIG THING, which is barely mentioned, and I won’t mention either.

A failure, but an interesting failure. Watch it to see actors you wouldn’t expect to see together – Kinnear and Huppert, for example – and to see sun-drenched Sintra, a town that looks busy and buzzy with tourists, with people enjoying themselves. There isn’t much of that going on with Frankie and her brood.

Frankie – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2021

The General

Brendan Gleeson plays Martin Cahill in The General


A movie for every day of the year – a good one



12 February



Art thieves steal Munch’s The Scream, 1994

On this day in 1994, thieves broke into the National Gallery, Oslo, and stole the Edvard Munch painting The Scream. It is actually one of a number of so-named works of art, there being four different Screams in a variety of media, plus a number of lithographic prints struck by Munch himself. The one stolen on the night in question was in tempera on cardboard and was in a less secure part of the gallery – it had been moved as part of celebrations held to mark the opening of the winter Olympics in Lillehammer, which had been taking place on the second floor. The thieves left a note: “thanks for the poor security” and later followed up with a ransom demand of $1 million. The painting was recovered in May after a joint operation by Norwegian Police, the British police’s SO10 unit and the Getty Museum.




The General (1998, dir: John Boorman)

Cinema loves a gentleman rogue, and in the shape of charmer Martin Cahill that’s exactly what we have here. Add to that basic formula the fact that the career criminal is a loquacious Irishman, played here by Brendan Gleeson, and the combination is doubly potent. Shooting in black and white for reasons of cost but also because there’s enough colour in the character to fill the frame, director and writer John Boorman tells the story of the professional thief who operated in Ireland in the 1980s and 1990s, tantalising the police, irritating the IRA, beguiling with one hand while he pilfered with the other. Boorman had himself been burgled by Cahill, and includes the heist here (it’s the one where Cahill steals a gold record off a wall – the one Boorman had won for the soundtrack of Deliverance). And it can’t escape notice that Boorman, like so many, seems enthralled by a man who could be brutal, but was so intelligent, devious and had such a sense of personal integrity that he stirred up protective feelings even in those he’d harmed. Enter Jon Voight, as copper Ned Kenny, the sheriff of Nottingham to Cahill’s Robin Hood, a hard-bitten professional cop who’s seen it all, but not the way Cahill does it (one alibi includes Cahill actually being in the company of the cop when he was meant to have been pulling a bank job). Enter also the two sisters (Maria Doyle and Angeline Ball) Cahill shares his house with, married to one, sleeping with the other. It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to pull that off, as does the theft of an Old Master which Boorman shows us in full detail. Cahill eventually ran foul of the IRA, who couldn’t abide that he operated outside their jurisdiction, and it is that ugly denouement that brings Boorman’s film to an end. The General won Boorman a best director award at Cannes, but this vastly entertaining film remains oddly overlooked, doubtless because some people are resistant to films in black and white. If that sounds like you and you must have colour, check out Ordinary Decent Criminal, a film from 2000 about Cahill’s escapades which stars Kevin Spacey as another, slightly more fictionalised, version of the man himself. Just don’t expect it to be as funny or as fleet of foot.



Why Watch?


  • Boorman won best director at Cannes
  • Boorman’s immersive screenplay makes you work out things for yourself
  • A mighty Brendan Gleeson performance
  • DP Seamus Deasy’s rich monochrome cinematography


© Steve Morrissey 2014



The General – at Amazon