Francophrenia is a brilliant, cutting-edge collaboration between famed actor and avant-garde artist James Franco and award-winning filmmaker and editor Ian Olds. When Franco signed up for an acting gig on the soap opera General Hospital, he brought along a crew to film behind-the-scenes action on set at Los Angeles’ Museum of Contemporary Art, creating a glimpse into the strange world of celebrity in both its public and private moments.
Working with this “found footage,” director Ian Olds repurposes Franco’s material into an experimental psychological thriller focusing on the actor’s escalating paranoia. It is a mind-bending meditation on identity—of the individual human being whose name is James Franco, the performance artist Franco that he plays in the television soap opera, and the movie star James Franco. Added to these multiple personae, Olds and fellow screenwriter Paul Felten add a subjective interior monologue (spoken by Olds playing the voice of Franco, in fact) that underscores the conflicted relationship between these various facets of the same being. The fragile psychology of “Franco,” teetering on the edge (both literally and figuratively), is enhanced by the introduction of experimental tropes throughout the film, including reverse action, abstraction, animation, and multiple-screen imagery, all set within the context of a dramatic suspense narrative. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival.]
Leaving behind his life as a fixer for Western journalists reporting on the war in Afghanistan, Osman (Dominic Rains) lands in a small bohemian town in Northern California, living on the couch of his friend’s mother (Melissa Leo) and working as a crime reporter for the local newspaper. Restless and eager to find purpose in the context of his new life, he befriends a couple of locals—the eccentric and unstable Lindsay (James Franco) and the elusive Sandra (Rachel Brosnahan)—recruiting them to help him penetrate the town’s peculiar subculture. When Lindsay mysteriously goes missing, Osman gets drawn into the backwoods of the town in order to find him. As things begin to take a dangerous turn, Osman is forced to confront the untenable reality of his situation. [Synopsis courtesy of Tribeca Film Festival]