The camerawork in the films of French filmmaker André Téchiné (Ma Saison Préférée, Wild Reeds) is roaming and active without ever seeming ostentatious. He’s not a “cool shot” filmmaker—just one who doesn’t like to keep still. The same could be said about his screenplays, particularly the absurdly dense and hard-to-lock-down one for his 19th film, Unforgivable. The story involves disappearances, suspected infidelity, stalking and casually free-floating sexuality, plus animal cruelty, an attempted suicide and an OTT scene of filial deviancy. Any normal screenplay would make a meal of any one of these elements, but for Téchiné, they’re just blips, brief deviations before the next point of interest.
Unforgivable even starts crazy: Flannel-clad crime novelist Francis (Alain Resnais regular André Dussollier) asks a pretty, aging real estate agent Judith (former Bond girl Carole Bouqet, still ravishing) for a scenic manse on Torcello, at the northern tip of Venice. He scores a house, as well as her. Jump ahead 16 months and Francis, in the grips of writer’s block, lets his unutilized imagination get the better of him. First, he freaks when his daughter (Mélanie Thierry) runs off with a wealthy ne’er-do-well. Then, once that’s resolved, he hires a young ex-con (Mauro Conte), the son of Judith’s former female lover (Andriana Asti), to trail Judith on her daily duties. Not that he has a good reason to suspect her of anything.
There are enough plots for a TV season in Unforgivable, all of them crammed into a feature-length production. Téchiné uses the bulk to his benefit, relishing not over big pleasures and profundities but a cascade of smaller ones. Events always threaten to become serious or genre, but Unforgivable always turns back at the last inch, its characters returning to the frustratingly reliable mundanity of reality. If Unforgivable is about anything—and, to its credit, it often just seems caught in the moment, as breezy as the sunny vacation it often is—it’s about characters wishing for lives more exciting than they are, more like movies or the crime novels Francis can’t, during the film, churn out. Although even dwelling on that notion is to make Unforgivable seem smaller and neater than it deserves.
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