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James Franco. People either love him or hate him. His public persona has been constructed around his love and dedication to his art. His roles vary from serious and learned projects to stoner comedies and hysterical cameos. In Francophrenia (Or: Don’t Kill Me, I Know Where the Baby Is) , he and co-director Ian Olds document a special event episode of General Hospital Franco did in which he plays a character named Franco. This is not abnormal, as he has a penchant for playing himself, or characters called “James Franco”, but Francophrenia “documents” his seeming break from reality as he begins to unravel the world between his own psyche and that of his character.

This film seems to question whether James Franco is ever actually being himself, or if he’s always playing some “version” of himself. And if he is actually living some elaborate piece of performance art, then is he pretentious enough to actually believe that his “imaginary art show” is worth paying to see? Or is he constantly lampooning the effect fame has on people? Is his work becoming progressively more ridiculous just to see what the upper limit is on people paying to see it?

And therein lies the rub with this film. If James Franco is laughing just as much at himself for making it as he is for us watching it, then this is a brilliant experimental film that pushes the boundaries of documentary. If he’s only created this film for the purposes of mocking those who might come to see it and don’t get the joke, then this is one of the most offensive pieces of cinema ever created.

Sadly, there’s no clear answer to this. This reviewer liked the film a great deal because, quite frankly, it’s too ridiculous to be taken seriously. Others in the audience were wholly incensed and offended by it. Certainly, the film will evoke an emotion in its audience, which is much better than stirring nothing at all.

You’ll have to see it for yourself to make up your own mind. And you can, on Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 11:30 pm, Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 10:00 pm, and Saturday, May 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm. Check the Hot Docs website for details and tickets.

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