Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"The stunning visuals - beautifully shot in a whirl of rich colours and edited together with feverish energy - easily overwhelm the plot, as does the pounding, vibrant score."

In 2009, directors Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani thrilled horror fans with delirious mystery Amer, which seemed or a moment to breathe new life into the giallo genre. Sadly, the hoped-for revival that it seemed to herald never happened, but with the emergence of Francesca, hopes will be renewed.

This film comes from Luciano Onetti, who seems to have done almost all the creative work on it himself, co-writing the script, handling the cinematography and sound, and even writing the score, with brother Nicolás sharing script duties and producing. The result is a film with the singular vision on which all the best giallo depends. It also has - unsurprisingly - a bit of a rough and ready look, but this suits the genre to a tee. Watching it, it's hard not to feel that Onetti has unearthed an unknown gem from the Seventies and tried to pass it off as his own work. The cast of unknowns compounds the illusion.

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Is this pastiche or a genuine attempt to create something new from fragments of the old? Sometimes it's hard to tell. All of the actors are competent but they're not required to do much acting. Their speech is slightly out of sync, adding to the impression that the film is a relic. This also emphasises that they are of secondary importance. The stunning visuals - beautifully shot in a whirl of rich colours and edited together with feverish energy - easily overwhelm the plot, as does the pounding, vibrant score. This is a highly sensory experience in which plot is a mere detail. Elements of melodrama and the luridness of the crimes around which the story revolves restore some balance, but to try and keep one's balance as a viewer is folly - the film is designed to sweep us off our feet.

Francesca is a little girl. Francesca plays with a dead bird. The sun is high in the sky. One day, Francesca plays with her baby brother. We hear her mother screaming. Francesca goes missing. 15 years later, 'sinners' are being murdered, coins left on their softly closed eyes. A plastic doll sings. We see red leather gloves. Passages from the Divine Comedy are found near the bodies. A dozen classic giallo threads are drawn together like piano wires. Blood is ruby red and ageing police officers describe events as if they were discussing a half-remembered play.

Francesca gets under your skin.

For fans of giallo, this is unmissable - a work which, despite its flaws, places Onetti alongside the masters of the genre. For those unfamiliar with giallo it will be startling, like cinema from anther planet - you may feel hopelessly lost, or want to be sick, or fall in love.

One final note: stay until the end of the credits or you'll miss an epilogue that's easily as creepy as anything in the film itself.

Reviewed on: 13 Aug 2016
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Francesca packshot
Is a series of grisly murders connected to the death of a young girl 15 years ago?

Director: Luciano Onetti

Writer: Luciano Onetti, Nicolás Onetti

Starring: Raul Gederlini, Silvina Grippaldi, Luis Emilio Rodriguez, Gustavo D'Alessandro

Year: 2015

Runtime: 80 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: Argentina

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