Simultaneously withholding and smothering, Francine, about a woman just released from prison, provides Melissa Leo (in the title role) another opportunity, after Frozen River and The Fighter, to play economic-margins dress-up. Her crime or length of time behind bars never specified, Francine settles into a lean-to somewhere in the Hudson Valley and drifts through a series of jobs, most of which involve animal care. Human interaction proves more difficult, unless it involves bending over in the bathroom on an impromptu break from her cocktail- waitress shift at the racetrack. Yet Francine's preference for the company of quadrupeds quickly develops into pathology, as her shack is soon overrun with cats and dogs and their excrement—at which point Brian M. Cassidy and Melanie Shatzky's debut feature (they have made two documentaries before this) reveals itself as a project of few interesting ideas. Unlike, say, Barbara Loden's Wanda (1970), whose female drifter from bleakest Pennsylvania coal country makes a series of bad decisions that aren't independent-filmmaking semaphore for abjection, Francine eventually abandons its opacity for queasy-making cruelty.
Leo plays another blue-collar recovery case.
FRANCINE Runs Fri., Jan. 4-Thurs., Jan. 10 at Northwest Film Forum. Not rated. 74 minutes.