The new French release from director Andre Techine, Unforgivable, is the kind of film that shows the many layers of a single person’s character in a way that a story doesn’t always show, yet in real life we’re probably like that.
To explain: Francis (Andre Dussolier) is a novelist. His critics call him the king of neo-gothic thrillers. Now aging with thinning grey hair and a grey beard, Francis moves toVenice to start work on his next novel. The estate agent, Judith (Carole Bouquet) who helps him find his new residence – a house on a remote island – becomes the subject of his new infatuation, and within minutes of meeting her he asks her to marry him. It’s an odd thing to ask – he’s been with her for no more than three or four minutes, and we’re not sure how to react to such a proposal, and neither does Judith. Would someone in real life really do that?
Then we jump ahead by eighteen months. Francis and Judith are now married and living together on that island, but the relationship comes at an expense; Francis can’t write while he’s happy.
Unforgivable (known as Impardonables in France) is heavy on plot, and to explain more might be an exercise in futility without bogging a reader down into seemingly unimportant details. The film peels back the varying layers of development covering themes of love, secrets, jealousy, the need to control and infidelity, and it does it at its own, languid pace. When Francis, who continues to suffer from writer’s block, becomes jealous of his wife’s past – she’s a woman who has had many affairs, including those with her own sex – he hires Jeremie (Mauro Conte) to follow her.
Francis is at first a charmer, a man who seems blissfully happy with his new marriage, so the act of hiring someone to follow his wife feels odd, even out of character. But that’s exactly what Unforgivable is showing; a slice-of-life illustrating the different shades of someone we think we already know who then does something that would ordinarily seem out of character. The real world populated with real people and their varying shades of character behavior is not as tidy as a novelist would have you believe. Much of what we think we know of the characters in Unforgivable, or what we think we like about them, may change before the film concludes. Isn’t that how things are in life?
There’s a richness to the characterizations that keeps you interested, and director Techine has chosen to frame that rich quality by making his film attractive. Unforgivable looks beautiful. The widescreen color photography is a pleasure to observe as we savor the splendor of a sunny sky or the ravishing look of the deep blue choppy waters of Venice. But the film is not for everyone, not even for those who often enjoy foreign cinema; its themes and style may annoy and frustrate even though outcomes are refreshingly unpredictable.
Quick trivia: American audiences who wouldn’t ordinarily watch foreign films may remember Carole Bouquet. In 1981 she was a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only, and here thirty two years later the French actress and one-time model still looks as radiant as ever.
MPAA Rating: Unrated Length: 111 Minutes Overall rating: 6 (out of 10)