Thoughts on the film: Frankie

By Sergio C. Muñoz at Intelatin. Featuring the director of the film, Ira Sachs

A magnetic woman named Ilene comes to Sintra, Portugal to spend a moment with her friend, Frankie. Frankie is a celebrity actress who is scheduled to die soon of cancer. Frankie organizes a family and friend reunion to presumably say goodbye. Ilene is the only non family member who has been invited to this reunion. She brings her boyfriend, Gary, a bag of plain yogurt, and when Gary attempts a half-assed partnership proposal to Ilene, she says to him:

“Lets see where we are before we plan the future.”

I imagine the filmmakers wanted Frankie to be the protagonist of the film but she is played by Isabelle Huppert with such a lack of emotion that the viewer is forced to try and connect with the secondary characters or the setting.

With us at Intelatin is the director, Ira Sachs.

There is something very place-based about this film. Like, Sintra, Portugal, tries to steal every scene. Tell us about where we are and why:

I had the idea to make a film about a family on a vacation. I worked with a Brazilian co-writer and we wanted an evocative space where we could tell this story. His family was from Portugal and so he recommended Sintra which is an hour from Lisbon and it is known for its palaces and castles and its fairytale-like qualities. I remembered that I had been in Sintra when I was fourteen years old in 1979 with my mother and two sisters. It wasnt until we got there and I spent a few weeks feeling an emotional response to the landscape that was in front of me. We wrote the script for Sintra and were able to include as a character in the film in a direct and intimate way.

Your story felt to me like the old Merchant Ivory films which reminded me that I had not seen this type of film in decades. A type of character based film with zero action and an extremely subdued melodrama. There is supposedly an economic reason why Hollywood doesn’t make these types of films. Why did you choose to throw-back?

Throw-back would be an improper classification to my relationship to character-based drama because I never stepped away from it but I see it as the advantage of being an independent filmmaker and also a personal filmmaker. I make films in conversation with the type of cinema that means the most to me. Often, I make a type of classic art film that I do not think is like Merchant Ivory but I understand what you mean. A feature as an off-shoot of the novel. A place where story is told by an understanding of character’s interiors and their relationship through drama to the exterior. This is what I am invested in and its the only film I know how to make.

Your protagonist has a connection with all of the secondary characters but Ilene stands out for multiple reasons. What purpose did Ilene bring to Frankie’s story?

This is a film that is very theatrical. It is not a naturalistic story. Its constructed like a theater play with a lot of artifice. Its nine stories that take place and each story has its own arc. This is crafted film. It is not an accident. Within the context of the family, it was nice to have an outsider in the story. This was a natural fit for Marisa Tomei and her energy. It was very nice to have two women who are best friends be together in the story and you can see that they are different but they make sense together. To me, I imagined this very easily between the shared intelligence and the lightness of Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei. They are both so full of detail and emotion. Marisa and her character of Ilene brings a very American angle to the story.

What did Ilene’s quote mean to you?

I rarely think of dialogue in terms of metaphor. It was interesting to hear you mention it and that it evokes a metaphor for the film. To be in the present and not to imagine the future. To me it was just a line of dialogue. I try not to focus on subtext. When I work with actors, I try not to talk about motivation because I dont want to get into the process of interpreting expression of emotion and life. I hear the metaphor when you cite it but I wasnt thinking it when I wrote it.

My purpose is to hip a young Latin American audience in the US to watch this type of crafted film because of its artistic significance. Do you have expectations for this type of audience?

Certainly. I think that there are many different access points. It has a forty year marriage but also a young teenager discovering love for the first time. This is the type of film that if I had seen it when I was young, it would have changed my expectation for what a movie can be and that would have been exciting. I live in New York and my husband is from Ecuador and we take our bilingual children to the cinema every week. This is a movie that can show my children the world. It has an international quality and it is not dominated by an American perspective. This is a movie that showcases the world and I hope people enjoy it.


Frankie screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. It is distributed by Sony Pictures Classics. It opens in Los Angeles on October 25th at the Laemmle Royal, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025


Loading more posts…