Academy Award winner Melissa Leo gives a fierce and restrained performance as Francine, a woman struggling to find her place in a downtrodden lakeside town after leaving behind a life in prison. Taking a series of jobs working with animals, Francine turns away others and instead seeks intimacy in the most unlikely of places. Gritty, elliptical, and voyeuristic, Francine is a portrait of a near-silent misfit and her fragile first steps in an unfamiliar world.
The story of Francine emerged from a short film that we made called The Delaware Project, a semi-narrative tale about a woman who attempts to find a connection in a once-rural landscape, now undergoing aggressive suburban development. In this largely tonal, visually suggestive piece, our protagonist rarely speaks, and expresses almost nothing. Pining for some kind of intimacy, she seeks refuge through ritualistic visits with doctors, and finds a strange comfort in being poked and prodded, explored and diagnosed. Although the attention she receives is clinical, at least someone is paying attention to her.
Francine is, in many ways, a narrative continuation of the themes touched upon in The Delaware Project. It is the story of an aging female prison inmate on parole, someone for whom there is still time left to find her footing, but for whom a significant number of years have already passed her by. Raw to the outside world, and disconnected from the ease of human interaction, Francine quickly retreats into a world of animals where she finds solace and kinship working with those who, not unlike herself, have been subjected to captivity. A pet store, a polo ground and finally a veterinarian's office provide Francine with an opportunity to intervene with lives that have been pre-determined and, in some cases, disregarded.
Francine is an exploration, not of life in prison, but of imprisonment in a larger sense. Francine's confinement, as she comes to accept it, is her comfort.