You can't talk about Ira Sachs' Frankie without talking about its beauty. Not just the seaside Portuguese town of Sintra where the film takes place, although that offers a lot of picturesque beauty... that cinematographer Rui Poças routinely ignores. Oh you'll get a shot here of characters on the beach, or a shot there of the town's rooftops twinkling against green leaves -- you can tell these people that Sachs has gathered up are in a very pretty place. But they usually stand in front of it, block and become it -- their faces and body languages are the landscapes these two are curious in capturing, and as such Frankie is a symphony of light and color, expressiveness in gesture and speech. Watch the way an afternoon ray of light cascades down Brendan Gleeson's beard, tears turned to sunshine.
It's important the filmmaking itself is saying so much, because the characters keep saying a lot without it ever being quite about what it's about. Frankie (Isabelle Huppert) has gathered all of her family in Sintra because she's about to die of a terminal cancer that's reappeared, "everywhere" as she puts it -- this will presumably be their last time all together, and everyone has their own things that keep getting in the way as the single day the film takes place over fans out, their futures branched and clotted in captivating miniature.
Frankie's son Paul (Jérémie Renier) can't find love, so his mother's invited along a friend Ilene (Marisa Tomei) who might be able to help out on that front, only she seems to have brought her boyfriend... it's all doomed before they even meet, and that's before Paul starts vomiting out stories that will dig up the roots of possible romance on the spot. Frankie's ex (Pascal Greggory, never more appropriately of Eric Rohmer's Pauline at the Beach) and current husband (Gleeson) have conspired to drag an unwitting Frankie to a healing spa, a suggestion she slices down to its own quick the second she catches on. So instead we listen to a tour guide tell his life's story.
A gifted golden bracelet gets tossed into the path-side jungle, and an engagement disassembles in the two-way midst of a band of oblivious tourists -- everywhere meaningful moments dissolve at the touch, at their mere recognition as such. Nobody can quite be about what they're about, even Frankie herself -- they come to this beautiful place glowing with good intentions, however half-baked and resolutely unspoken, and they remain painfully human, small and exquisitely disastrous, flitting about like fireflies -- here then gone, here then gone -- in a a just set sun. You can't see the sun. Just the dirt and light changing color.