The sexy daughter of a famous writer goes missing in Venice in “Unforgivable,” but thankfully, the pic is about as far from a pulp mystery as you can get. The latest opus of veteran filmmaker Andre Techine, one of France’s most humanist and consistently excellent helmers, nominally adapts the eponymous literary work of Gallic scribe Philippe Djian. But though the film’s countless details might feel novelistic, its multistrand approach and beautifully played take on complex emotions and issues such as love, desire, parenthood and fidelity are pure Techine. Local August release will delight discriminating arthouse aficionados worldwide.
The intricate but always accessible plot is set in motion by the arrival of bearded Gallic scribe Francis (Andre Dussolier) in Venice, where he plans to work on a new novel. Looking for a place to stay, the author contacts a real-estate agent, who turns out to be the independent Judith (Carole Bouquet), a French expat with a past in modeling, who’s at least a decade his junior. Francis flirts with Judith, but she’s not interested.
In the first of several time jumps, the pic flashes forward to a year and a half later, when Francis and Judith are a married couple renting the home on the island of Sant’Erasmo, close to Venice, that Judith had suggested would be perfect for the author, but he thought was too big for one tenant.
An early meeting between the childless Judith and her ex-lover, Anna Maria (Adriana Asti), a private detective who’s uncomfortable over running into Judith again, makes clear that the still-beautiful Judith is easy to fall in love with, and hard to forget, foreshadowing some of the rough waters ahead. In a beautifully conceived negative image, Anna Maria’s troubled twentysomething son by a long-gone French father is almost the polar opposite of Francis; the bilingual Jeremie (Mauro Conte), who’s about to be released from jail, despises human contact in general and being touched in particular.
When Francis’ actress daughter, Alice (Melanie Thierry), comes to visit, she confides to her stepmother that she’s never seen her dad this happy. Not much later, Alice leaves for a nighttime visit to the handsome son (Andrea Pergolesi) of an impoverished countess (Sandra Toffolatti) and doesn’t come back. Did something happen to her, or was she simply inspired by her dad’s conjugal happiness and decided to run off?
Techine and co-screenwriter Mehdi Ben Attia, who earlier collaborated on the helmer’s “Far,” have fluidly transposed the novel from the Basque coast (where Techine filmed “Hotel America”) to northeastern Italy. Refreshingly, their Venice is a city where people live and work, rather than a tourist destination. And the forever-decaying city of cultural riches contrasts beautifully with bucolic Sant’Erasmo, the city’s green market-garden island. The novelist’s first-person narration has been replaced with a wider view that follows protags of different ages, interests and sexualities, much like in the helmer’s previous efforts, such as “The Witnesses” and “Changing Times.”
Herve de Luze, the regular editor for Alain Resnais keeps most scenes short and rhythm pacey, allowing for the underlying themes to surface organically, since the various strands continuously rub shoulders. Exploring different kinds of love and guilt — passionate, professional, familial, repressed — and playing with preconceived notions of how relationships can or should be, the pic seems almost conceived as proof of Blaise Pascal’s maxim, “The heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of.”
Regular d.p. Julien Hirsch delivers unobtrusive work designed to showcase not the sets but the actors’ work within them, and the thesps form a uniformly strong ensemble. Score is appropriately dominated by strings.
Pic’s English-language title, culled from press notes (title was left untranslated onscreen), is something of a misnomer; the original French is plural and thus suggests that unforgivable acts and people are everywhere and therefore trivial.