If we’re going to treat Ira Sachs’ Frankie properly, we’re going to have to take some time with it, to let it seep into our train of thought as well as our line of sight. It’s a very delicate, almost fragile, film about the things often left unspoken in relationships.
Isabelle Huppert stars — in her 138th film as an actor — in a remarkably subdued performance as a movie star named Frankie Crémont, who has invited members of her family and other special friends to the beautiful seaside Portuguese town of Sintra, for the purpose of saying goodbye to them before she dies of cancer.
Frankie’s husband Jimmy (Brendan Gleeson), who lives with her in London, already has the forlorn look of somebody existing in someone else’s past tense. Even without the shadow of Frankie’s apparent death sentence, Jimmy cuts an odd-man-out figure, inhabiting the same frame with her yet almost never — except in one wordless scene in bed together — really sharing anything with his estranged spouse. Other characters, including Sylvia, Frankie’s daughter from a previous relationship (Vinette Robinson); Sylvia’s teenage daughter (Sennia Nanua); Frankie’s ex-mate Michel (Pascal Greggory); and Frankie’s weak-willed son (Jérémie Renier), likewise can’t penetrate Frankie’s essential loneliness.
The only character to fully relate to the dying actor is Ilene (Marisa Tomei), a longtime film-biz pal. In director Ira (Love Is Strange) Sachs’ low-key, melancholy series of scenes — written with Mauricio Zacharias — all Ilene and Frankie need to do is hold each other tight. Dialogue is mostly superfluous. In a film like this, one character needs to be the live wire that lights up everyone else and pulls them along with her. There’s no one like that here. That’s a problem 90 percent of the art-house audience won’t be able to overcome, but the ones who get it will be gratified. Good luck.